Gettysburg in the Western Territories

By Hayden McDonald ’25

The role and importance of the State in the Civil War is one that cannot be exaggerated. The idea of Statehood was integral for community and individual identity amongst Civil War soldiers from both sides. As important to the common soldier as more abstract ideas like “Union” and “Confederacy” may have been, many also turned to the slightly more concrete institution of Statehood for inspiration. Many on both sides were as fiercely loyal to their state as to their national government. Many Virginians sought to protect the Old Dominion from supposed Northern depredation as much as they desired to support the newly forged Southern Confederacy. When Lee’s army crossed the Potomac in 1863 and marched north onto Union soil, Pennsylvanians understood the coming conflict to dictate the fate of their nation as well as their state. For native Pennsylvania soldiers, the Rebel invasion was an affront to home and hearth, as well as a threat to the Union, and a return to native soil to defend their state from the Rebels was both a source of “homecoming” joy and newfound determination to protect Pennsylvania at all costs.

At the outbreak of the secession crisis in 1861, only 34 of today’s 50 states were members of the Union. A 35th would be added in 1863 in the form of West Virginia, but still, the vast amount of land west of the Mississippi River was governed as territories, not states, throughout the Civil War. In a war that was fought over either the protection or disintegration of a national Union between the States, these territories occupied a nebulous position. For most of these western territories, the war was a distant echo in everyday affairs. However, these events were routinely covered by territorial newspapers, for many understood that the outcome of the war would dictate the future of these territories.

As reports of the battle of Gettysburg circulated throughout the nation and newspapers inundated their readers with conflicting, and sometimes entirely fabricated descriptions of the battle’s outcome, word of the conflict reached the isolated territories. In the New Mexico territory, the Santa Fe Gazette reported on the battle, and on August 1st of 1863 lauded the achievements of “that brave body of American soldiers” and their victory over the Southern invaders. In its reporting, the Gazette is staunchly loyal to the Union cause, and condemns further attempts by the Confederacy to escalate or continue the conflict. As the editor puts it, the South’s manpower had suffered so heavily that it will “make them consider long before they conclude to prosecute the rebellion to greater extremes.”

What is truly interesting about how the Santa Fe Gazette discusses Gettysburg and the Civil War as a whole is the relative detachment with which the paper reports on it: Gettysburg is a distant place caught up in a distant war. The pressing matters of the nation in Washington D.C. and Richmond are mere points of conversation for the majority of residents in Santa Fe. The massive armies of North and South are fighting each other on the other side of the continent. Far nearer at hand are the rampages of the Navajo on American settlers. As important as Lee’s losses at Gettysburg may be, it is the story of the ongoing war with the Native Americans of the region that is most pertinent. For the Santa Fe Gazette, the real strategic reverse did not happen on the fields of Gettysburg, but rather with the arrival of several hundred Native Americans of the Ute tribe who agreed to fight alongside American settlers against the Navajo.

Equally supportive of the Northern war effort is an account of the battle of Gettysburg published by the Washington Statesman of Walla Walla, then Washington territory. The Washington territory lay, at that time, at the westernmost fringes of the United States. In the extreme northwest of the nation, the people of Walla Walla were as far from the conflict as one might get within the nation. With this distance came also a skepticism of the newspaper reporters of the East. For too long had editors in the West been fed information that erred from reality, or were fed false hopes of quick victory over the rebels. In a July 18th, 1863 edition of the paper, the editor of the Washington Statesman surely found some issue with the reports of the South’s “Waterloo defeat” at Gettysburg. As the editor writes, “we have no great faith in this wholesale bagging business. All the braggadocio heretofore indulged in about capturing large bodies of troops has resulted in a good wide gap for the army so to be bagged, to escape through.” Clearly, news of a quick end to the war had been transmitted West one too many times. The natural distance from the eastern battlefields to the American territories in the far West bred a disconnect between those territories and the war itself. Newspapers depicted this disconnect in different ways, whether that be through the Washington Statesman’s skepticism or the Santa Fe Gazette’s bookmarking of Gettysburg so as to discuss the latest news in the geographically closer Navajo war. The war affected Americans in myriad ways, and the echoes of that conflict grew fainter the further they traveled from the fields of battle. These two papers provide an instructive example of how vastly different Americans’ experiences of the Civil War were: To those closer to the East, it was a time of up-close-and-personal bloody carnage, widespread destruction of landscapes and infrastructure, everyday threats to lives and livelihoods. While the war undoubtedly shaped the lives and futures of westerners in no small way, for them, distant rumors, suspect reporting, and often merely “footnoted” battles comprised the reality of their Civil War.

Presses for the People: Civil War Newspapers’ Relationships with Their Reading Publics

By Emily Jumba ’24

Beaufort, South Carolina’s The Free South’s“Victory! Gettysburg; General Lee Defeated; Thirty Thousand Prisoners” and Delaware, Ohio’s The Delaware Gazette’s “The Great Battle in Pennsylvania” both describe some of the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg, although with extremely different tones. Both newspapers expressed strong pro-Union sentiments and supported the Republican party. Federal treasury agents founded The Free South in January of 1863 in Beaufort, South Carolina, which, by 1863, was mostly home to freedmen and occupying Union soldiers, both of whom were supportive of the Union.[1] Beaufort began experimenting with Reconstruction soon after the battle of Port Royal, in late 1861. The fact that this small pro-Union paper was based in South Carolina, which not only was a slave state, but was also the first to secede from the Union, makes the position of The Free South somewhat unique. The Delaware Gazette, on the other hand, was the product of a northern state and was slightly older, having first been published in 1855 in Delaware, Ohio.[2] This paper initially leaned towards the Whig Party, but after the party’s collapse, it switched its loyalties to the new Republican Party, which likely represented many of its constituents, as Ohio was both a free state and a loyal member of the Union. The varied focus and tone of these staunchly pro-Union papers’ reports on the aftermath of Gettysburg is intriguing to unpack.

“Victory! Gettysburg; General Lee Defeated; Thirty Thousand Prisoners” (The Free South) reports mostly on the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg in a straight-forward “factual” manner, without much flourish or pathos. The article also focuses on tallying the number of prisoners the federal troops managed to take, between the quantity of wounded men the Army of Northern Virginia left behind in Pennsylvania and those that surrendered mid-battle or during the retreat. It is important to note that, while the article focuses on numbers, some of them are just estimates, as the article was written less than two weeks after the battle, and it draws heavily from articles in the New York Herald, which were published even closer to the battle, on July 3rd and 7th.[3] Occasionally these estimates are a bit high; at one point, the Free South article approximates the total number of prisoners taken by the Army of the Potomac at a quarter of General Lee’s forces.[4] In addition to the prisoner counts, the article also briefly mentions which generals on each side were casualties, but gives no further details about the circumstances of their injuries or deaths, staying true to its lean and blunt reporting style.

The Free South’s heavy emphasis on prisoners is a consistent pattern throughout the newspaper’s short time in publication (from January of 1863, to November of 1864).[5] After various battles occurred, the paper often reported on the number of prisoners taken both by federal and Confederate troops. This may be due to the Beaufort population consisting of predominately freedpeople. United States Colored Troops had been fighting in the war since the fall of 1862, opening the potential for African Americans to be taken as prisoners of war during the time frame the paper was in print.[6] This scenario was of particular concern for the consumers of The Free South (whether they could read the news for themselves or had it read to them by Union occupiers), as on numerous occasions, when Confederate soldiers encountered African American soldiers who surrendered, they killed them rather than accept their surrender, and when they did take African Americans prisoners, they often refused to parole them or sent them back into slavery.

Both of these scenarios were featured within the paper in early Fall of 1863, just two months after Gettysburg. On September 19, 1863, an article described the delay in the exchange of prisoners because, “the rebels refused to eat their words,” regarding the USCT troops who had been captured.[7] A month prior, the United States War Department released General Order 252, in which Lincoln demanded the equal treatment of prisoners and threatened to execute a Confederate prisoner for every USCT soldier that the rebels murdered.[8] If there were any freedpeople from Beaufort who had joined the USCTs, such occurrences could potentially involve them and significantly impact the lives of their loved ones back at home, who were trying to establish new lives for themselves. In addition, the white federal soldiers occupying Beaufort were also likely interested in reading these statistics because they would also want to see the reports of USCT prisoners taken, especially as the Confederates committed similar atrocities against the white officers commanding USCT units. On a broader scale, by following statistics of prisoner tallies, the soldiers could track the progress of the war and which side seemed closer to winning while they remained stationed at Beaufort, away from the action of the war.

This article only briefly mentions the possibility of the Union suffering heavy losses to General Lee, but does not dwell on the idea, perhaps, in part, as an attempt to bolster previously sagging Union morale by focusing more squarely on the enemy’s losses than those sustained by the North’s for its reading constituency. Additionally, as there were no USCTs involved in the battle of Gettysburg, concerns about brutal treatment of captured federal troops and officers was not as much of a concern as it would have been in the wake of other battles. This common theme of focusing on prisoners of war as part of a larger emphasis on a battle’s raw numbers likely was a trend that carried over from the paper’s typical battle reporting style.

“The Great Battle in Pennsylvania” (Delaware Gazette)also mentions prisoners taken after the battle of Gettysburg and some numerical counts, although its aftermath-focus is centered on the battle’s cost in human lives. The article builds to the reveal of the horrors of battle by first relaying the events of the Pickett-Pettigrew Assault on July 3rd in a grandiose manner, almost as if relaying the plot of a dramatic novel. The account contains a series of events and surrounding context that are described in sentimental detail, such as: “There was not wanting to the peacefulness of the scene the singing of a bird, which had a nest in a peach tree within the tiny yard of the white-washed cottage.”[9]  The article’s author immediately annihilates this bucolic image by describing cannon shot beginning to tear through the house as the bird is mid-song. The descriptive scenes eventually culminate in a description of men’s violent (but honorable) deaths that awaited on the battlefield: “They rushed in perfect order across the open field, up to the very muzzles of the guns, which tore lances through them as they came.”[10] The author clearly wants his audience to immerse themselves in the full picture of the fighting and the horrors that the soldiers experienced, with tugs at both the imagination and the heartstrings of the reading public, even though he himself was not present at the battle.

Simultaneously, details such as these conveyed to communities back at home that the soldiers’ fight was a courageous, romantic display of sentimental sacrifice in the face of a brutal enemy, and under enormously trying circumstances, that ultimately won the day in the name of Union and patriotism. Courage and sentimental sacrifice were expected, hallmark facets of Civil War soldiers’ conduct, as they tied into essential Victorian ideals, such as martial masculinity, honor, and righteousness, that both soldiers and civilians believed in to help justify the horrors and grief ensuing from war.[11] For example, at the end of the article, the author depicts Jesus standing over the battlefield, welcoming the righteous dead through the gates of Heaven—and what made these dead righteous was that they fought courageously, upholding their honor until their dying moment.[12] Civil War soldiers on both sides often believed that if they were righteous, Providence would at least ensure their souls went to Heaven if it did not protect them from injury in battle. The author likely included such evocative details in part because he was writing for an extremely pro-Union audience in Delaware who likely sought such affirming framing in reading about the details of a large Northern victory. The article in The Free South utterly skips past this sort of description, focusing squarely on numbers and cold calculations of POWs rather than on the human details of, say, how those large numbers of soldiers reached a position in which surrender proved the only option.

Although published within a mere day of each other, both for pro-Union audiences, and both clearly recognizing the Union victory at Gettysburg, the difference in these two articles’ tone and content reveals the important role that not only the expectations, but also the needs of the readership played in shaping how Civil War battles were portrayed in the press.[13] One paper was consumed by a community of newly freed former slaves who were in the process of starting new lives in a state that was still fighting against the Union, as well as by Union occupiers who were expected to continue their tenure at Beaufort until the end of the war; their desire for battle news likely was motivated by practical, pragmatic concerns about numbers and raw facts that could alter the scales for or against an ultimate Union victory and emancipation. The other paper was produced for a well-established town of largely white civilians in central Ohio with pro-Republican leanings who craved a battle narrative that propped up both their cultural and political ideals that justified the sacrifice of so many white soldiers on behalf of Union and democracy. These two articles underscore just how intertwined the press and individual readership communities were in shaping how the war was reported and recorded for future generations.  


“Gettysburg Prisoners of War – Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (U.S. National Park Service).”

“Battle History | Gettysburg PA.”

“Beaufort National Cemetery–Civil War Era National Cemeteries: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary.”

Delaware Gazette. “The Great Battle in Pennsylvania.” July 10, 1863, sec. Image 2.

Library of Congress. “Delaware Gazette (Delaware, Ohio) 1855-1886.”

Library of Congress. “The Free South (Beaufort, South Carolina) 1863-1864.” Stickney, Latta & Reed.

Linderman, Gerald. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1987.

The Free South. “Important Order from President Lincoln.” August 15, 1863, sec. Image 2.

The Free South. “Once Free, Always Free.” April 25, 1863, sec. Image 1.

The Free South. “Protection of Colored Troops.” August 15, 1863, sec. Image 2.

The Free South. “The Exchange of Prisoners—Status of Officers of Negro Regiments.” September 19, 1863, sec. Image 2.

The Free South. “Victory! Gettysburg; General Lee Defeated; Thirty Thousand Prisoners.” July 11, 1863, sec. Image 1.

[1] Library of Congress. “The Free South (Beaufort, South Carolina) 1863-1864.”

[2] Library of Congress. “Delaware Gazette (Delaware, Ohio) 1855-1886.”

[3] The Free South. “Victory! Gettysburg; General Lee Defeated; Thirty Thousand Prisoners.” July 11, 1863, sec. Image 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Library of Congress. “The Free South (Beaufort, South Carolina) 1863-1864.”

[6] “Beaufort National Cemetery–Civil War Era National Cemeteries: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary.”

[7] The Free South. “The Exchange of Prisoners—Status of Officers of Negro Regiments.” September 19, 1863, sec. Image 2.

[8] The Free South. “Important Order from President Lincoln.” August 15, 1863, sec. Image 2.

[9] Delaware Gazette. “The Great Battle in Pennsylvania.” July 10, 1863, sec. Image 2.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: The Free Press, 1987).

[12] Delaware Gazette. “The Great Battle in Pennsylvania.” July 10, 1863, sec. Image 2.

[13] “The Great Battle in Pennsylvania” was published on July 10, 1863, and the “Victory! Gettysburg; General Lee Defeated; Thirty Thousand Prisoners” was published on July 11, 1863.

Living to Remember: Harry W. Lewis’s Enduring Civil War

Part 3 of 3: “…On yonder Belle Isle” : Making Sense of the Memories of War

By Danielle Russell ’25

After being captured on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Fairfield, Harry W. Lewis of the 6th U.S. Cavalry was sent to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Lewis survived the horrors of Belle Isle, but the memories of his experiences plagued his later years as he struggled to comprehend all he had endured. In the concluding article of this 3-part mini-series, Danielle Russell ’25 analyzes how, in the years following the Civil War, Harry W. Lewis struggled to understand his difficult wartime experiences, by seeking to memorialize his town’s sacrifices, sorting through his various encounters with the enemy, and searching for someone to blame for all he endured. Danielle is the 4th-great niece of Harry Lewis.

From 1898 to at least 1909, Harry served as a marshal in Erie’s Decoration Day, and later Memorial Day, parades. Forever faithful to his comrades from the 6th, he also served as the regimental association’s vice president for several years.

Harry W. Lewis as marshal of Erie’s 1909 Decoration Day parade (Image from author’s collection).

In addition to these activities, as Harry grew older, he remained actively involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, as a member of Erie’s Strong Vincent Post No. 67.

Harry W. Lewis with his G.A.R. uniform and ribbons, date unknown (Image from

He frequently attended state and national encampments, and regularly traveled to locations across the country for reunions of Union and Confederate veterans. One of the places he visited most often was Gettysburg, the site of his beloved brother’s death and his own capture. For each place he traveled to during the war, his perception of the landscape had been uniquely shaped by his experiences as a scout for Generals McCook, Pleasanton, Buford, Gregg, Stoneman, and Merritt. Harry asserted that, even decades later, “the whole face of this region…is very vividly stamped in my memory.” He could never forget the events that lingered in his mind.

Veterans of the 6th U.S. Cavalry gathered at Fairfield, date unknown (Image from Fairfield Area Historical Society).

On at least two occasions, he confronted Confederate veterans or sympathizers with the harsh realities of his treatment at Belle Isle. In 1902, while visiting Richmond, he stood before the monument to the Confederacy’s unknown dead in Hollywood Cemetery, looking towards Belle Isle. When a nearby Confederate veteran suggested that the Union prisoner of war camps were just as brutal as the Confederate camps, Harry disagreed. Emphatically gesturing across the river towards Belle Isle, Harry described his experiences at “the prison pen,” and then compared his malnourished condition with that of the well-fed Confederate soldiers he and the squad of sixteen were exchanged for at City Point. Harry once more blamed Jefferson Davis and labeled the Confederate veterans gathered before him as Davis’s “willing white slaves.” Although Harry does not address the Confederate veterans’ reactions to his bold statement, it utterly violates the post-war reconciliatory sentiment prevalent at many reunions, illustrating the myriad, diverse attitudes that Civil War veterans held toward their foe throughout the post-war years.

Monument to the unknown Confederate dead in Hollywood Cemetery (Image by author).

On that same trip in September of 1902, while on a steamship on the James River, traveling towards Richmond, Harry was asked to lunch by a younger man and his wife. Harry accepted and the man, a Virginian, eventually discussed his childhood. The Virginian recognized Harry as the man who, years prior, “killed the cavalryman and the two horses,” and added, “I saw you destroy the bridge.” The man’s memory immediately brought Harry back to the event, on June 26, 1862, when Harry and nineteen other men were sent by Captain John Gregg to “destroy bridges and blockade roads” near Hanover Court House, Virginia. While chopping down trees to block the road, Harry and his squadron had noticed “Jackson’s cavalry” rapidly approaching, and a short time later, artillery fire began, “sending limbs and tree tops all around us.” Harry had falsely believed they were safe, because the Confederates were on the opposite side of the creek, and the destroyed bridges and the creek’s quick-sands prevented the creek from being crossed. Nonetheless, Harry and the men from the 6th watched in horror after realizing “some of the Johnny reb cavalry were on our trail.” After hearing the Virginian’s narrative, Harry inquired how the Confederate cavalry were able to cross the creek. The Virginian laughed and confessed that “My mother sent them after you. We had a private platform bridge below the barn connecting two fields.” Harry and the men of the 6th had failed to destroy that final bridge because it “was hidden by willows growing along the stream.” Instead of feeling angry with the Virginian for laughing at the ambush where at least one of his men was killed, Harry insisted that the Virginian was “a fine man.” Perhaps Harry would have described the Virginian’s mother in less kind terms. Although it is possible that Harry reacted that way because the Virginian was not involved in planning the ambush and was thus not responsible, it is more likely that he was not angry with the man because, as a soldier, he knew to expect death on the battlefield. Roaming in enemy territory, as Harry and the other men from the 6th were the day of the ambush, was an inherently dangerous activity, so Harry was unsurprised by his comrades’ deaths. However, his experiences at Belle Isle, which utterly violated his conceptions of warfare and the prisoner of war system, shocked him beyond his comprehension. Unable to explain or understand the horrific conditions, he was less willing to excuse them as routine, expected aspects of war.

Five years later, in 1907, Harry was once more visiting Richmond, when he met an aged woman from New Orleans, who planned to visit the grave of her brother, who had died fighting for the Confederacy. Her father and a second brother had also died during the war, all in service to the Confederate cause. The woman claimed to be “an unreconciled Confederate rebel.” Harry balked at this and implored the woman to reconsider. After speaking with her further, he discovered “she knew literally nothing about most public events,” like the Dred Scott decision, the Missouri Compromise, and the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Acting as the historian, Harry explained each of these events to the woman, once more painting Jefferson Davis as the central villain behind the atrocious experiences he endured at Belle Isle. Unable to deny his persuasive rhetoric, the woman “acknowledged that she was ignorant of these things,” and the two continued their conversation over breakfast the next morning. As he strolled through Hollywood Cemetery that afternoon, he found the woman beside her brother’s grave, “weeping most bitterly.” As Harry walked past her, “she smiled through her tears,” and the two never saw each other again. Was the woman crying for her brother and his memory? Were her tears meant to convey a sense of inner conflict as she struggled to reconcile her brother’s memory with the horror stories Harry told her? Did she smile to simply show she recognized Harry, or was it meant as an outward display of her empathy for his experiences?

In his later years, Harry struggled to comprehend the extent of his suffering at Belle Isle Prison. Instead of blaming all Confederates, he insisted that most Confederates “were mere vassals” for the true villains, the “hot-headed southerners,” like Robert Toombs, Francis Wilkinson Pickens, John Buchanan Floyd, David Flavel Jamison, and, above all others, Confederate President Jefferson Davis. For Harry, having lost two younger brothers and a cousin during the war, and after suffering through his own trials at Belle Isle, Jefferson Davis served as the primary symbol for the years of anguish he had endured. Perhaps due to his friendship with Sergeant Hoffman, Harry opted to divide the Confederates in his mind, parsing them into groups based on the interactions, either direct or perceived, that he had with them and how their actions reconciled (or failed to do so) with not only his own political beliefs, but also the cultural ideals of honor, martial masculinity, and traditional combat with which he had grown up. Decades after the war, Harry remained unable to forget or fully forgive his former enemy for the atrocities he witnessed at Belle Isle. Incapable of comprehending how human beings could subject their fellow humans to such cruel treatment, he needed someone to blame; he chose those he deemed most responsible – the ardent secessionists he believed ensured the war’s inevitability, and most notably, Jefferson Davis.

Striving to wrangle this anger and incomprehension into more positive and productive actions befitting the memory of his fallen comrades, Harry dove further into memorializing his fellow veterans from the local community. While he continued to attend various Grand Army of the Republic encampments, and interact with Confederate veterans, he also endeavored to create lasting tributes to Erie’s fallen soldiers. Largely because of Harry’s fundraising efforts, the Lieutenant H.F. Lewis Grand Army of the Republic Post in Fairview, named for his younger brother, erected a monument to the Civil War’s unknown dead in Fairview Cemetery. It was dedicated on May 30, 1895, just a few months after what would have been Horatio’s fiftieth birthday. Perhaps for Harry, the monument was also intended to honor Harry’s younger cousin, Franklin, who died at Fredericksburg and was interred in an unknown plot in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Monument placed in Fairview Cemetery by the Lt. H.F. Lewis G.A.R. post (Image by author).

Despite Harry’s reverence for Captain Gregg and other officers from the 6th, he staunchly advocated for the creation of a monument to the 145th Pennsylvania’s Colonel (later General) Hiram Loomis Brown. The monument was a personal passion project of his, and yet another attempt both to come to terms with the loss of his brother and make sense of the immense suffering and toll that the war years had inflicted on so many like him. Harry insisted that “no soldier more richly deserves a monument to his memory,” and lamented the fact that General Brown’s grave was unmarked for twenty-seven years after his death. In a letter read at the 145th Pennsylvania’s August 1908 reunion, Harry pledged five dollars, or more if necessary, to see the monument constructed “under the shade of a butternut hickory tree planted by General Brown and another boy in 1844.” Three years later, he was still working to raise the necessary funds, and gave a speech at the 83rd Pennsylvania’s September 1911 reunion urging the veterans to complete the project. Tragically, when Harry died a few months later, on March 9, 1912, his dream of a monument for General Brown died with him.

Harry W. Lewis with his great-niece, while visiting his sister’s family in Pasadena, California, early 1900s. Even on vacation, he wore his G.A.R. ribbons (Image from author’s collection).

At Belle Isle, Harry endured starvation and daily struggles with lice, filth, harsh punishments, and insufficient shelter that contradicted his own notions of civilized warfare, human decency, honor, and manhood. As he watched his fellow prisoners and comrades from the 6th wither away into mere skeletons, he searched for someone to blame. Unable to understand the reasons for the cruelty and intense suffering he experienced, his quest to comprehend his time at Belle Isle became confused when he remembered his relationships with Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, like Wesley Atwood Hoffman, and the grieving sister from Hollywood Cemetery. Having forged a sense of mutual understanding with these individuals that allowed him to perceive them as living and breathing humans, rather than unknown and unfeeling figures, Harry opted to blame the Confederacy’s leaders.

Directing his disdain squarely toward Jefferson Davis, the man he deemed most responsible for “Belle Isle’s Horrors,” Harry convinced himself that the Confederacy’s soldiers and civilians were unaware of the atrocities allowed by those who represented them. After all, how could Wesley Hoffman, a man who saved his life, support the very same man whose grave overlooked what Harry saw as the scene of some of the Confederacy’s greatest crimes against humanity? How could the woman at Hollywood Cemetery whose brother died fighting against Union soldiers like Harry, smile at him through her tears, if she supported the actions of men like Davis? How could his conscience allow him to sit calmly next to the Virginian from the train who laughed as he recalled that his mother helped set an ambush for Harry and his men? The only logical explanation for Harry was that these individuals were lied to, deluded into believing the placating words whispered to them by their leaders. Their misguided trust, not any true desire for the deaths of Union soldiers, was to blame. While these men and women recognized that war meant killing and death, Harry believed that they could not possibly sanction the harsh conditions found at Belle Isle. No, the only logical explanation, unless they had witnessed the horrors of a prisoner of war camp like Harry had, was that they were tricked into thinking it was a gentleman’s war where men respected their adversaries as human beings, rather than as objects of hatred and the target of their deadly fire. As a soldier who knew firsthand what the “arm” of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were capable of, Harry believed he knew a truth that most civilians – and even the average Confederate soldier – never did. And so, Harry wrote. And yet, while he tried his best to impart this truth through his articles, he acknowledged that some details, too numerous or horrible for recollection, would inevitably elude the public; like many of his own remembrances of Belle Isle, these details would live on merely in the minds of fellow veterans as restless shadows, forever lurking, and forever haunting their memories.

California’s “North and South”

By Hayden McDonald ’25

From the fields of Pennsylvania to the towns of Virginia, from the hills of Kentucky to the plantations of Georgia, the American Civil War wrought death and destruction across the eastern United States. The so-called “western theater” of the conflict was constrained, in large part, to the Deep South and territory due east of the Mississippi river. The war is easily contracted to fit the framework of North vs. South. What, then, of the “Far West”? Discussions of the Civil War seem oddly out of place on the Pacific Coast, though both California and Oregon had been admitted into the Union in 1850 and 1859 respectively. For Americans living in the far west, the war was, in many regards, distant–a mere side note to daily life. But the news of the fearful clashes in the east reverberated across the plains and mountains, and reached the ears of Californians all the same, the ultimate repercussions of that fighting sure to impact the nature of settlement in the adjacent western territories. California, despite its relatively small contributions to the Union war effort, remained loyal. This is not to say, however, that all the citizens of the Golden State were of the same mind when it came to secession. Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina–these are some of the states that were most clearly divided during the war. Few, however, remember the divisions within California, nor the strong sentiments she housed for both the North and the South.

Accounts of Gettysburg, the battle which swiftly gained a reputation as the largest and most decisive of the conflict, echoed across the wide nation all the way to California, where they were met with two vastly different interpretations. A few months after the battle, a Bay Area newspaper named the Pacific Appeal published an account of a lecture given by a Reverend T. Starr King, an influential Californian minister and Unionist. In a lecture delivered at an African Methodist Episcopal Church on the history of the Mississippi River Valley, Reverend Starr King strayed from his present topic to offer a few remarks on the “patience and valor of American soldiers.” There is no question who exactly he meant by “American soldiers.” As he says of the late battle in Pennsylvania, “the valor of Gettysburg has never been surpassed, I believe in any battle in the world. The wicked hopes and the fierce expectations of the enemies of civilization” were valiantly struck down by the armies of the North. These “enemies of civilization” relied upon the institution of slavery as the economic backbone of their nation, one which Reverend Starr King found morally repugnant and fiscally unviable, stating, “the paper based on the visionary opulence of a great slave empire was worth even less than the Confederate bills.” The Confederacy was doomed through and through, he argued vehemently, and God’s favor would undoubtedly shine upon the Northern cause in the end, as the Union victory at Gettysburg had now “foretold.” With all this talk of slavery, freedom, and moralism, it is worth noting that Starr King’s audience for this lecture would have been predominantly African-American, though as the editor points out, “there were many white persons present.” Starr King was himself an abolitionist, and although California was a Free State, not everyone was enthused about that fact. His comments on the righteousness of abolition and the Union Cause fell on sympathetic ears amongst the parishioners of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Compare the moralizing and nationalistic sentiments of Reverend Starr King’s lecture with an article published by the Los Angeles Star, the largest newspaper in southern California. Los Angeles was known at the time for housing a rather vocal population of pro-Confederate, pro-Secessionist advocates. Henry Hamilton, the head editor of the Star in the war years, was an acknowledged Confederate sympathizer, so much so that he was arrested and forced to take the oath of loyalty to the Union. It was this man who, in January of 1864, published an article attacking President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In it, he argued that “Mr.” Lincoln’s assertions regarding the moral fidelity of the Northern war effort were anything but. For him, Northerners were fighting to “ignore the distinctions of race and amalgamate their descendants with four millions of negroes.” It would not take too much extrapolation to guess Hamilton’s stance on the issue of slavery. Furthermore, according to Hamilton, rather than espousing any lofty ideals about the perpetuation of American democracy, Lincoln’s address clearly revealed that he was fighting to institute a “system where the minority rule over the majority.” Henry Hamilton’s article is, in many ways, a caricature of both prewar and postwar Southern justifications for secession. In it, he embraces all of the hallmarks of the Lost Cause — from States Rights to the inferiority of African Americans — long before the Southern cause is actually lost.

 Where, then, is the unity in California’s approach to the Civil War? The state remained loyal, but clearly not all of its citizens agreed with that stance, as proven by Mr. Hamilton and his followers. California never saw any fighting in the Civil War, and the bloodshed of the conflict remained comfortably far-off for many of its citizens, but in a time of civil conflict where the stakes are high for both those directly and indirectly involved, sectarian divides sprout up everywhere, even on the opposite side of the country.

Living to Remember: Harry W. Lewis’s Enduring Civil War

Part 2 of 3: Horrors That “no tongue, no language or pen, can fully describe or explain”: Harry W. Lewis’s Stint as a P.O.W.

By Danielle Russell ’25

After being captured on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Fairfield, Harry W. Lewis of the 6th U.S. Cavalry was sent to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Lewis survived the horrors of Belle Isle, but the memories of his experiences plagued his later years as he struggled to comprehend all he had endured. In part 2 of 3 of this mini-series, Danielle Russell ’25 writes about how, despite the atrocities that Harry W. Lewis faced as a P.O.W. on Belle Isle, he was determined to survive, and eventually rejoined his regiment, even though his haunting memories of the prison lingered. Danielle is the 4th-great niece of Harry Lewis.

“Weary March of the Prisoners”

Although Gettysburg was far from his first battle, Harry was shocked by the sheer number of wounded Confederate soldiers who filled the wagons that followed the prisoners south. These men represented the “sorriest, woe-begone looking set of soldiers” he had ever seen, since many displayed some sort of bandaged wounds, while many others had not received any medical attention. While Harry knew any of those men could be responsible for his brother Horatio’s mortal wounding and the deaths of his comrades, he empathized with their suffering. Bodies of deceased Union and Confederate soldiers lay strewn about the roads. Harry noted nearly all of the soldiers had been “stripped of their clothes except their drawers,” and dead for more than twenty-four hours.

Early on the morning of July 6, Harry and the other prisoners were given beef and flour. Unlike the earlier instance, this time, the ravenous Harry was willing to eat the “paste” made from the flour, without any salt or milk.

Aside from the issue of few rations, Harry’s larger challenge arose from the fact, as a cavalryman, he was not accustomed to marching. After the heavy rains following the battle, Harry marched through swollen waters, causing many of his comrades’ leather boots to dry out. Rather than suffer the excruciating blisters that resulted from the friction between the dry boots and the men’s feet, many decided to go barefoot. Before long, as Harry remembered, their “feet became swollen, sore and full of cracks,” making the men walk “like a chicken with frozen feet.” Harry described this as a “pain and torment” unlike any he had ever experienced before. He did not know then that this only marked the beginning of his suffering.

The men crossed the Potomac River using a small ferry capable of carrying twenty men at a time. It took two days and two nights before the men finished crossing the river. From the Potomac, they continued to Martinsburg, in what is now West Virginia.

In Martinsburg, Harry remembered the gratitude he felt when the local women flooded the streets as the prisoners marched past. The women carried all sorts of foodstuffs, including “bread, cakes, pies, milk and water.” It must have seemed a miracle to the poorly fed prisoners. Harry declared with dismay that the Confederate guards coldly forced the women back into their homes, at the threat of their bayonets. Furious, Harry added that he noticed one Confederate dared to “strike several women with the flat of his sword and curse them.” Undeterred and eager to help their captured defenders, the women, upon retreating into their homes, tossed the baked goods from second story windows, so that they fell into the crowds of hungry prisoners. The grateful men “wished we had guns with which we could have shot the cowardly” guard, but, without such an opportunity, they contented themselves to shout, “You dirty, cowardly Reb!” and similar taunts.

Unwilling to let their soldiers go hungry, the women of Martinsburg proposed to bake bread for the Union prisoners if the Confederates supplied the flour. However, once the women completed the task, Harry lamented the fact that the bread and biscuits that resulted from the twenty barrels of flour were largely given to the men assigned to guard the prisoners, rather than the intended recipients. The captured members of the Eleventh Corps consumed the majority of the remaining bread, leaving Harry and the other prisoners hungry and eager for vengeance. That night, Harry and the other captured members of the 6th Cavalry launched a raid on the Eleventh Corps’ “camp,” securing twenty-six haversacks and assorted foodstuffs. Harry and his friend, George Rose, each absconded with their own haversack, and Harry delightedly discovered his contained a tin cup, beef, and some flour. Harry and George Rose divided their spoils among their “less lucky comrades,” and the duo then exchanged the two haversacks with two rebel guards for what Harry described as “a good-sized hoe-cake, which made a couple of mouthfuls apiece among the boys.”

The Steamer New York at Aiken’s Landing in Virginia, date unknown (Image from Library of Congress).

Eventually, after several more days, Harry and the 6th reached Mount Jackson, Virginia, where a Confederate captain noticed Harry’s “pair of $20 high-top patent leather cavalry boots.” Throughout the march, Harry carefully guarded the boots, carrying them on a string. The Confederate captain offered him $75 in Confederate currency, which Harry refused, and insisted he would not sell the boots for less than $200 in Confederate currency. Infuriated, the captain threatened to forcibly take them from Harry. Just as angry, Harry uttered a challenge, daring the man to try to take the boots. Further incensed, the captain stormed off. Fearing the man would “get some help to take the boots,” Harry used his knife to cut the soles out of the heavy boots. Given the terrible experiences Harry had already endured as a prisoner of war, he was unwilling to relinquish the boots, either by choice or by force, as a point of honor. Much to Harry’s dismay, the Confederate captain never returned. However, instead of throwing the worthless boots away, Harry continued to carry them throughout the rest of the march and his time as a prisoner of war and used them as a pillow. Harry only rid himself of the soleless boots after he was paroled, tossing them from the steamer New York into the James River, as he sailed to freedom. That same night, the desperate Harry and George Rose paid a whopping five dollars each for two pounds of bacon, constituting roughly two inches by two inches square per pound.

George Melville Rose, 6th U.S. Cavalry, date unknown (Image from

Finally, Harry and the other men boarded a train “composed of several old box cars and an old worn-out engine,” bound for Richmond. In order to cross the Blue Ridge, the train could only successfully pull a single car at a time, meaning it had to make multiple trips. After thirty hours and 130 miles, Harry and the other Union prisoners, “packed full…like sardines in a can,” arrived in Richmond. That night, they were crammed into Libby Prison, on the outskirts of the city, which Harry estimated to be “the best prison the Confederates had during the war,” owing to the adequate ventilation and dry conditions in the converted warehouse. In the twenty-one days it took to reach Richmond, Harry calculated that for about seventeen days, his clothes were wet from rain or sweat. Libby provided much-needed, though still crude, relief.

Libby Prison, where Harry spent the night before being transported to Belle Isle. Image dated August 23, 1863, the day before Harry arrived in Richmond (Image from Library of Congress).

“Belle Isle’s Horrors”

Belle Isle Prison and the James River in 1865 (From the Library of Congress).

The morning after their arrival in Richmond, the Confederates marched Harry and his fellow prisoners across the James River via bridge to Manchester, where they crossed a railroad bridge onto Belle Isle. By Harry’s estimate, it was August 25, 1863. Since the bridge remained roughly fifteen feet in the air, they took a set of stairs to the ground, before arriving at a cornfield, where they were once again searched by their captors. In an odd twist, Harry instantly recognized one of the men, Charles Center, who previously served with him, and deserted from the 6th U.S. Cavalry. Center defected to the Confederates just a few months prior, in May 1863. Even before this unexpected reunion, Harry was thoroughly convinced that Center was “a poor soldier, an all-around crook, gambler, and thief.” Together with Sergeant Cray, of Company F, 6th U.S. Cavalry, Harry “chinned” Center, calling him the names listed above. Enraged, Center threatened that if the two “didn’t shut up he would fix us, so” Harry “chose the better part of valor and kept still.” However, Center did not let the incident go unpunished, and, with the help of a Confederate sergeant, seized Sergeant Cray, before typing him to a tree limb by his thumbs, which, according to Harry, “nearly killed him.”

1860s sketch of Belle Isle Prison with guards, by Alfred Waud (Image from Library of Congress).

By Harry’s estimates, a 4.5-foot-tall embankment surrounded the camp, with a trench on both the outside and the inside. The inner trench, representing the dead-line (the farthest point the prisoners were allowed to travel within the camp without being shot), stood one foot from the embankment and measured about 1.5 feet wide. The embankment stood about “five or six rods” from the James River.

Upon arriving at Belle Isle, Harry witnessed what he termed “an elderly soldier” from an unknown New York regiment ask the commandant, Thomas Turner, to safeguard $140, which was placed in an envelope with the man’s name, regiment, and company. Labeling the poor man as “demented from the hardships and hunger,” Harry knew that moment was “the last he will ever see of his $140.” After a rumor of parole circulated throughout the camp months later, the man approached the commandant and asked for his money to be returned. The commandant refused and shoved the man, and after the New Yorker approached both the commandant and Confederate General Winder, the commandant roughly “grabbed him by the hair and coat collar,” and ordered that the man be bucked and gagged. Furthering the misfortune of the man’s undeserved punishment, the commandant ensured the punishment occurred on a hill, so that, when the commandant kicked the man, he fell onto his side, with his head facing downhill. Much to Harry’s utter horror, the next morning the “poor soldier lay there dead.” Although Harry was near the gate when the punishment was inflicted, he was powerless to help the man, lest he be subjected to a stricter form of discipline. While the lasting impact of this soldier’s death on Harry’s mind is unknown, the fact that he mentioned it decades later in his reminiscences of Belle Isle suggest he felt a degree of anguish, and even possibly guilt, over the fact he was helpless to intervene.

Photograph of Libby Prison showing Commandant Turner, taken by Charles R. Rees (Image from Library of Congress).

The remnants of the earthen walls that marked the dead-line of Belle Isle Prison (Image by author).

The New Yorker’s death marked only the first in a series that Harry witnessed while at Belle Isle. Numerous men, many of them new to the camp, and unaccustomed to the concept of a dead-line, were shot after accidentally stepping across the barrier. Other times, the Confederate guards missed their intended target, and Harry remarked with horror, the bullet “would hit one or two poor defenseless fellows.” In utter contradiction to the Victorian ideal of the “good death” – a glorious battlefield death where one’s last, patriotic words were recorded by a comrade – soldiers at Belle Isle and other prisoner of war camps faced a variety of threats, from illness to accident that emphasized the randomness and cruelties of war.

Much like other prisoner-of-war camps, Belle Isle’s inmates suffered from an extreme lack of adequate rations. Although Harry could not have known that the Confederate government struggled to feed its own troops, or that numerous other prisons in Richmond taxed the city’s already limited resources, he firmly believed the prisoners at Belle Isle were intentionally starved in a form of twisted retribution. Harry blamed Jefferson Davis, convinced that the man acted with a “spite and cruelty” that explained the fact he “deliberately starved so many thousands of poor Union prisoners.” Thoroughly satisfied with this reasoning for the suffering he and his comrades endured, when reflecting on his time at the camp years later, Harry thought it an extremely cruel joke that Davis’s final resting place in Hollywood Cemetery overlooked the site of his tragic crime against humanity.

Jefferson Davis’s grave in Hollywood Cemetery, overlooking Richmond and Belle Isle (Image by author).

Upon their arrival at Belle Isle, the prisoners were sorted into groups of five clusters, each consisting of “hundreds” of men. Once the Confederates brought the prisoner rations inside the prison, they were divided into five groups. The prisoners in charge of each of the groups reported to the cook-house, where they randomly selected one of the fifths, which was then given to that cohort of prisoners. The process began at 9 a.m. each day, and by 11 a.m. all of the rations were distributed. Each man received a piece of lime-raised bread about the size of an average individual’s hand. Much to Harry’s disgust, “it was no uncommon sight to see a small piece of lime in the bread.” The men usually received one or two tiny beef bones or bits of bacon as well. Their supper consisted of bread and soup, which Harry clarified was no more than “hot rain water,” which was “served from 3 to 5 p.m.” If the Confederates could not obtain rice, they used cow peas from North Carolina, allowing Harry and the other prisoners to “imagine it was soup” and not just water with pea pods mixed in. The innutritious diet rendered Harry “so poor in flesh and weak in body that” he needed “to lie down half of the time.”

However, Harry’s biggest battle at Belle Isle was his struggle against the lice which constantly sought to gnaw his “poor scanty life-blood out of” his weakened body. This fight against the lice was a battle for both cleanliness and survival, because, as Harry quickly noticed, “those who didn’t fight them daily, soonest succumbed to disease and death.” Together with the other sixteen prisoners from the 6th U.S. Cavalry, after each meal, Harry removed his clothes, turning them inside out and inspecting them for the dreaded vermin. Unlike most of his comrades, from the beginning of the war Harry had worn a vest beneath his uniform. In the pocket, he kept his greatest weapon for “self-defense” – a comb. Working together to combat their tiny enemy, the sixteen men from the 6th used the comb each day to examine each other’s hair and remove any invading insects. Recognizing they were fighting a losing battle, Harry and his fifteen comrades each gave the Sergeant from Company D of the 1st Vermont Cavalry part of their rations in exchange for him first cutting, and then eventually shaving their heads. Harry recollected the horrifying moment when a severely lice-infested comrade visited the barber. As the barber cut through the hair, and the lice, “the blood would streak down their necks and gather in drops” across the barber’s hands. In one of his many instances of sensitive reflection, while Harry admits the story sounds improbable, he emphasizes that “no tongue, no language or pen, can fully describe or explain the horrors of rebel prison pens.”

At Belle Isle, Harry knew two brothers, “whose clothes fell off from them” due to the harsh conditions. The brothers possessed one blanket between them, which they tore in half, it being “all they had to cover their nakedness.” Perhaps from this terrifying ordeal, or from their combat experiences, “both became demented,” and one day, were discovered dead, lying at each other’s side. Recoiling from the sight in terror, Harry wrote that it would have been impossible to “put your fingers on their heads, arms or legs, not mentioning their blankets, without putting it on a dozen line-backs. Those blankets were literally quivering from the motion of the millions of vermin on their bodies under the blankets.”

Nonetheless, despite his hellish experiences at Belle Isle, Harry consciously admitted that it “was a paradise beside Andersonville…The only advantage Andersonville had was that the climate was warmer.” Given the horrors he experienced, one wonders how Harry managed to emotionally and physically survive the months he spent at Belle Isle. Unfortunately, none of the more than two hundred post-war newspaper articles he authored explain how he coped with such struggles, aside from relying on the companionship and support of fellow prisoners.

Upon their arrival at Belle Isle, Harry and the fifteen men from the 6th had been assigned to the 22 Hundred. The men were paroled in numerical order, with the lowest number paroled first. Although parole began at Belle Isle by as late as May 1863, it was an irregular process. Frail and fatigued, they feared they would likely not survive if they remained prisoners, Harry and his fifteen comrades, which included one soldier from the 64th New York Volunteer Infantry, snuck into the group labeled as the First Hundred. In an incredibly lucky twist of fate, the man in charge of the First Hundred, a Sergeant Herman, had sixteen free spaces, his group number only eighty-four men, owing to the deaths of sixteen men. Of the First Hundred, sixty-four men were sailors, not infantrymen, so the Confederates opted to parole them separately. After the sailors were paroled, the guards called for a Sergeant Herman’s group of sixteen. Acting quickly, George Chase, another man from the 6th captured at Fairfield, answered “Here we are!”

George William Chase of the 6th U.S. Cavalry, in 1905 (Image from

Demanding to know where Sergeant Herman was, Chase answered “Dead.” Since the sixteen soldiers originally assigned to Herman’s group were deceased, the ruse worked, and Harry and the fifteen were paroled with the group of sixty-four sailors. Just when it looked like they were finally free, the men were taken back into the camp, because of a problem with the sailors’ parole. Having been just steps away from freedom, Harry and his comrades’ “hearts ached and our hopes fell.” The 6th’s squad of sixteen and the sixty-four sailors were placed into the Second Hundred, and, after a few days, the Second Hundred was paroled. Once more, the squad of sixteen “answered to our names and went out with the sailors.”

As Harry and the other fifteen men sat on the ground near the gate, past the camp’s embankment, they heard the camp’s lieutenant call their names. Another prisoner informed the lieutenant that “Those fellows went out with the sailors.” Hearing this, the lieutenant “flew into” what Harry could only describe as “a towering rage.” The lieutenant screamed at Harry and George Chase, and the two men stood, though their malnourished frames were visibly weak. Once again so close to freedom, the lieutenant threatened the men, calling them “starved-looking hounds,” and threatened to kill them, or imprison them in Castle Thunder. Another Richmond prison, Castle Thunder had a reputation for housing criminals and spies, and was notorious for its reportedly brutal guards and conditions. Luckily, the lieutenant’s threats went unfulfilled. Harry, and the other fifteen men, were paroled with the entirety of the Second Hundred. Harry never explained why the lieutenant failed to carry out his threats, but perhaps it was owing to Belle Isle’s already overcrowded conditions. Nonetheless, Harry’s parole must have provided him with some sort of relief. While Harry carried his memories of Belle Isle for the rest of his life, he was finally free from the prison’s confines.

Private William M. Smith, Co. D, 8th Kentucky, taken on June 1, 1864, at Camp Parole’s general hospital, following his release from Belle Isle (Image from Library of Congress).

Harry boarded the New York at City Point, Virginia, and traveled to Annapolis, Maryland. Reaching his destination on February 17, 1864, he spent three weeks at College Green Barracks recovering his strength, feasting on salted crabs he caught with the other men from the squad of sixteen. From College Green Barracks, he was transferred to Camp Parole, where, after a week, the quartermaster assigned him to command the First Battalion cook-house and commissary. From their seven days’ rations, the men received potatoes, turnips or beets, pepper, salt, beans, onions, coffee, tea, and soap, as well as two days’ rations of corned beef and salt pork. At noon each day, every soldier received a twenty-two-ounce loaf of fresh bread.

Once the Lewis family learned Harry was at Camp Parole, his older cousin and namesake, Harry Whitlock, was dispatched from Warsaw, New York, to check on him. After a short visit in Annapolis, Whitlock traveled to Washington, D.C., where he enlisted another cousin, Wisconsin Senator James Rood Doolittle, and Pennsylvania Senator Edgar Cowen, who helped him secure a furlough for Harry. Whitlock took his younger cousin home, where he spent time recuperating in Buffalo, New York, and Erie. It was Harry’s first visit home in years, and after the deaths of his cousin and younger brother in 1862 and 1863, respectively, his family must have welcomed him with open arms.

Senator James Reed Doolittle (Image from Library of Congress).

When Harry returned to Camp Parole from his furlough, he was assigned to help the first battalion clerk with the clothing accounts. The clerk noticed that the men from the 6th were being charged for new uniforms, which marked “the first time the prisoners have been charged for their first suit when they came into our lines at Annapolis.” While they should have received the new uniforms for free, the clothing account attested that Union Army officials intended to charge them for the uniforms. Harry waited until the clerk left for the day, and then hurled the clothing account into the office’s coal stove, reasoning that “If the other paroled prisoners did not pay for their first suit, we won’t pay for ours.” Luckily for Harry, the matter was never discussed again.

Unidentified Union soldier following release from Belle Isle. Photograph taken at Camp Parole’s general hospital by A. Hill Messinger, date unknown (Image from Library of Congress).

On May 9, 1864, Harry was exchanged and sent to what he termed “Dismounted camp,” roughly three miles south of Washington D.C. After discovering that a detachment would be sent to the front lines the next morning, Harry asked the first lieutenant in command if he could be included in that group. Evidently the lieutenant took offense to Harry’s request, and, as Harry recounted, “the ungentlemanly cur cursed me and damned me and ordered me back to my quarters.” An orderly arrived, and inquired for Harry W. Lewis, and, upon answering to his name, Harry was ordered to report immediately to the provost marshal. Although the order likely worried him, at the provost marshal’s office, Harry discovered he had been summoned by Captain John Bell Dinsmore, of the 9th New York Cavalry, whom he described as “an old boyhood friend.” They had not seen each other for nearly two years at that point, so when Captain Dinsmore saw Harry’s name on the list of new arrivals at the camp, he swiftly sent for his friend. Eager to finally rejoin his old unit, Harry asked Captain Dinsmore if he could be added to the detachment leaving the next morning, and Captain Dinsmore provided him with the necessary paperwork. Harry returned to the camp to be fitted with the necessary accoutrements, the most important being a horse. The lieutenant from earlier, unwilling to admit his orders had been circumvented, ensured that Harry was the very last man to pick a horse. Fortunately, the “homely, little black gelding” he selected “proved to be a good horse” that “could jump any fence he could look over.”

Harry rejoined the 6th Cavalry on May 25, 1864, and continued to serve for a little over two months, until he was discharged at City Point, on July 29, 1864. Similar to his return following previous battles, like the ambush he faced in 1862, Harry’s homecoming to his regiment must have been met with both surprise and relief from his comrades.

Despite his return to the 6th, his time as a POW had clearly taken a toll on Harry. Before his capture, Harry had weighed around 165 pounds, but when he arrived at College Green Barracks, he weighed just 105 pounds, having lost roughly sixty pounds in seven months. Fortunately, once more amongst friends and family, and re-immersed in vastly improved conditions, by January 1, 1865, he weighed 171 pounds, having made a seemingly miraculous recovery.

Nonetheless, for Harry, the war never truly ended. The memory of his experiences lingered in his mind, and the physical scars of his time in the cavalry remained. In many regards, his post-war experience echoed that of thousands of soldiers. After developing rheumatism and catarrh (a system characterized by the presence of excess mucus in airways), he retired from farming to become a mail carrier.

Postal worker Harry W. Lewis with his mail cart, date unknown (Image from

However, he became a noted historian in Erie County, of both the Civil War and the county’s early history.

In his later years, Harry made repeated visits to the battlefields of his youth, such as Gettysburg, but he also visited Richmond. While the reason for his visits are unknown, Harry likely felt compelled to return, as he struggled to heal the emotional scars that remained from his military service and tried to make sense of all he had endured.

Living to Remember: Harry W. Lewis’s Enduring Civil War

Part 1 of 3: Hell Broke Loose”: Surviving 1862 and Capture at Gettysburg

By Danielle Russell ’25

After being captured on July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Fairfield, Harry W. Lewis of the 6th U.S. Cavalry was sent to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Lewis survived the horrors of Belle Isle, but the memories of his experiences plagued his later years as he struggled to comprehend all he had endured. In part 1 of 3 in this mini-series, Danielle Russell ’25 describes how, as a member of the 6th U.S. Cavalry, Harry W. Lewis survived the Peninsula Campaign and rescued his younger brother after Fredericksburg, but nothing could prepare him for the events that led to his capture at Gettysburg. Danielle is the 4th-great niece of Harry Lewis.

July 3, 1863, represented a day that twenty-two-year-old Harry Whitlock Lewis would remember for the rest of his life. Decades after the Battle of Gettysburg, he began to revisit the pivotal moment that became inextricably intertwined with his memories of his service with the 6th United States Cavalry.

Born on August 30, 1840, in Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, Harry was the seventh of ten children born to Marcus Lewis and Sarah Allen. His father owned a prosperous farm and steam-powered sawmill, which provided a comfortable existence for Harry and his siblings. Having experienced the deaths of his mother, both grandfathers, an uncle, and an older brother by age fourteen, Harry was no stranger to death. Although he did not know it then, further tragedies awaited him.

Horatio Farnham Lewis, Harry’s younger brother, in early 1863 (Image from author’s collection).

Marcus Lewis Jr., Harry’s younger brother, date unknown (Image from author’s collection).

Harry’s cousin, William Harrison Lewis, in the uniform of John McLane’s three-month regiment (Image from

Many years later, Harry recalled harvesting apples in the orchard at his family’s Fairview farm. He fondly remembered the “monster apples” he sampled with one of his brothers, which required the young boys “to use both of our little hands to hold the apple,” much to the amusement of onlookers. Although he didn’t specifically mention which brother that memory related to, it is possible that it was his brother Horatio, or his brother Marcus, both of whom died fighting for the Union. Harry’s memories were all he had left of his brothers in the post-war years, so it is possible that his particularly prominent remembrance of that childhood incident in the orchard was tied to one of his younger brothers.

Raised in a staunchly Whig and later Republican home, with a younger brother having campaigned for Lincoln during the 1860 presidential election, Harry enlisted in Company K of John McLane’s three-month Erie regiment on April 26, 1861. As Harry recalled years later, the regiment wore “light orange shirts, with blue flannel pants and jackets, trimmed with orange braid” and what he described as “regular army caps.” At the expiration of three months, Harry was discharged from the regiment on July 26, 1861. Waiting a mere three days, on July 29, he enlisted in Company G of the 6th United States Cavalry. At the time of his enlistment, he was twenty-one years old, with light hair, grey eyes, and a fair complexion. He stood just five feet and one-half inches tall.

Harry suffered two injuries in his first year with the 6th, both while the regiment was stationed in the defenses around Washington D.C. According to testimony given by Joseph Kaltenbacher, another member of the 6th, in January 1862, he was riding his horse when it slipped on ice. As he fell to the ground, he was hit by another horse, and injured his right arm. Not long afterwards, he reinjured the same shoulder after trying to prevent Corporal Alanson Alden’s horse from bolting, having been struck by his own horse in the confusion. These injuries rendered him “lame for a long time,” according to Kaltenbacher, but he recovered and continued his service with the 6th. The wound continued to plague him in his later years and became a central factor in his pension application.

Although his injuries and their lasting effects marked significant events in the first year of his service, two other events stood out more prominently in his memory from that time. Between September 1861 and March 1862, Harry and the 6th were stationed outside Washington. Much to Harry’s delight President Lincoln frequently reviewed the regiment, once, as Harry noted “from the front porch of the White House.” While he also recalled seeing Lincoln in February 1863 and August 1864, Harry remembered that “Lincoln was a good horseman and usually wore a tall silk hat.” Harry’s frequent sightings of the President were certainly personally meaningful given that his younger brother, Horatio Lewis, helped campaign for Lincoln in the 1860 election.

The Battle of Fredericksburg constituted a second memory that lingered in Harry’s mind. In what must have been a horrifying experience, on December 13, Harry and the 6th were in a position that enabled them to watch an Erie regiment, the 145th Pennsylvania Infantry, participate in the assault on Marye’s Heights. As he watched the chaos unfold, Harry could not have known that his cousin, eighteen-year-old Franklin Gifford Lewis, of Company D, as killed in the assault, and his younger brother, seventeen-year-old Horatio Farnham Lewis, also of Company D, was wounded. The next day, John Irvin Gregg, also of the 6th, informed Harry that he had learned from the 145th’s injured colonel, Hiram Loomis Brown, that Horatio was lying wounded in a house on Caroline Street.

John Irvin Gregg, who informed Harry of Horatio’s injury at Fredericksburg (Image from

After he rushed to his younger brother’s aid, Harry carried him across the street to a more spacious house and dressed his brother’s wounds before returning to his regiment. Although he could not have known at the time, that day, December 14, 1862, marked the last time the brothers saw each other. Seven months later, Lieutenant Horatio Lewis died of wounds received at the Battle of Gettysburg, while Harry’s Confederate captors forced him to march south towards Richmond. Harry likely did not learn his beloved brother’s fate until his parole in early 1864. Nonetheless, he never forgot his brother and, in his later years, made frequent visits to the 145th’s monument at Gettysburg, near the site of his brother’s mortal wounding, to contemplate his brother’s legacy.

The Goolrick-Caldwell House in Fredericksburg, where Harry treated his younger brother Horatio’s injuries (Image by author).

Although Fredericksburg loomed in his later memory, the early actions of the Gettysburg Campaign also impressed themselves upon Harry’s mind. Across several articles, Harry relayed his memories of the June 9, 1863, Battle of Brandy Station. In a September 30, 1907, article he insisted that, even forty-four years later, he could still “see in my mind’s eye those glistening bayonets as we repeatedly charged.” After his squadron commander, Lieutenant Ward, was killed, Harry gained command, and struggled to lead his men off the field, while “one by one the men and horses were picked off.” The nightmarish scene’s impression on Harry’s mind makes sense, especially considering that out of forty-eight men who crossed the river, only nineteen recrossed that evening. Of the twenty-nine casualties, only two men “were ever heard of or reported for duty again.” Given the 6th’s horrific casualties at Gettysburg, Harry’s remembrance of Brandy Station is curious. Perhaps it stemmed from the near sixty-percent casualties, or perhaps it was due to the fact that he was responsible for leading his men back across the river. Even in his position as commander, Harry was unable to save most of his men from the harsh fates that awaited them.

Despite his exciting personal encounters with Lincoln and his extensive campaigning through the war, the dozens of articles about his military service focused primarily on the Gettysburg Campaign and the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns. Of the Peninsula Campaign, Harry simply wrote “Sherman said, ‘War is hell.’ This was hell broke loose.”

Harry W. Lewis, Feb. 1863 (Image from Hagen History Center, Erie, PA).

Gettysburg and Fairfield

Leading up to Gettysburg, Harry and the 6th “could see the dust clouds hovering over Lee’s army” near the Blue Ridge mountains. On June 21, the 6th passed through Aldie Gap, where their brigade was ambushed in an attack that saw the brigade (what Harry termed) “cut all to pieces” and resulted in more than 125 casualties. Luckily, Harry and the 6th were able to “save the balance of the rifles from being captured.” After the Confederates managed to turn the Army of the Potomac’s left flank near Upperville, Harry, as Sergeant, was instructed to lead a squadron between two regiments that were under the command of the soon-to-be Major General George Armstrong Custer. After General Gregg asked General Pleasanton to “bring up the Sixth cavalry band,” Harry and his squadron “rushed those Johnny Rebs back into and through the woods” to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman.” The jig’s lively tune certainly seems an odd choice, although the selection of the traditionally Irish song is likely what imprinted the moment in Harry’s memory. The nearly overwhelming chaos of battle clearly left a variety of curious, if not conflicting impressions upon front-line soldiers such as Harry. After encountering some Union troops fleeing for the rear, Harry and the rest of the 6th urged the men to drive back the enemy, which they did. This time, Harry noticed the band played “Bonaparte’s Farewell.”

In the following days, Harry led another squadron of twenty men into Hagerstown, roughly twenty miles from their camp. After discovering the trail left by the Confederates, Harry and his squadron rode into Hagerstown around dusk. Although they had initially discovered numerous “stragglers,” as Harry termed them, once the Confederates noticed Harry and his men, “they vamoused the town in a hurry.”

In his articles, Harry reported little else about the 6th’s actions for July 1st or 2nd, but chose to resume his narrative with July 3rd, when General Merritt tasked the regiment with traveling to nearby Fairfield, where the “reb wagon train” was “loading up grain and flour at a grist mill.” After leaving two companies with General Pleasonton’s headquarters, Harry and the remainder of the 6th marched for three hours, until they had traveled sixteen miles to Fairfield. Noticing that the men were “tired, dusty, and thirsty” in the humid July heat, Harry recalled that the female inhabitants of Fairfield offered them “cups and buckets of water,” which they eagerly accepted while hurrying through town to the grist mill.

Arriving at a crossroads near the grist mill, Harry and the 6th discovered the Sixth and Eleventh Virginia Infantry regiments. With a stone wall on one end of the soon-to-be battlefield and a newly installed rail fence on the other, the 6th Cavalry dismounted and began firing. Once the Eleventh Virginia tore down the fence “and swarmed on our flank,” Harry realized that their “fate was sealed.” After a short battle of roughly half an hour, Harry and over 150 men of the 6th were captured. Along with a group of other men from the 6th, Harry was forced to give up his revolver to his captors. Much to his horror, as he did so, “three men at my right were shot with their own revolvers.” Instead of being afforded the fair treatment that surrendering soldiers on both sides expected from their foe, the Confederates’ cold-blooded murder of Harry’s comrades stood in stark contrast with the dignified surrender they anticipated. Having just relinquished his own weapon, Harry was even more horrified when the Confederate pointed the revolver back at him. Before his captor had a chance to pull the trigger, a Confederate officer rode up and, after recognizing Harry, “sprang from his horse,” asking, “Hello, Lewis, how are you?” The man was Sergeant Wesley Atwood Hoffman, of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, who had previously been captured by Harry just a few months prior, in October 1862, near Harper’s Ferry. Relieved, Harry remembered him, replying “All right old, boy.” After exchanging pleasantries and discussing the status of two other men Hoffman knew from his time a prisoner-of-war when captured by the 6th, Harry and the roughly 150 other prisoners were led to the Gettysburg-Hagerstown pike, where they were “corralled in a field” with other prisoners. One of the prisoners yelled to Harry’s group, inquiring “What troops are those?” Harry responded, to which the man replied “Is Sergeant Harry Lewis there?” Harry walked over to the man, John Starr, of Company B, of the 145th Pennsylvania Infantry. Starr informed Harry that his younger brother, Horatio, a Lieutenant in Company D, 145th Pennsylvania, “had been badly wounded, his left leg broken (bone shattered) near the body.” Although Starr and other comrades attempted to rescue Horatio, they were overwhelmed by the advancing Confederates, and captured before the young lieutenant could be taken to the rear. In his newspaper article that recounted the event, Harry described the way that Starr plainly told him his eighteen-year-old brother “would probably bleed to death.” Harry was no stranger to death, of both family members and comrades, but he was almost certainly stricken by this news. Remembering Horatio’s recovery after a wound received at the Battle of Fredericksburg just a few months prior, it is possible Harry may have held out hope that his brother was capable of recovery; however, the tone of Starr’s announcement would likely haunt him for weeks. Although Harry likely never knew it until his release months later, Lieutenant Horatio Lewis died at the Second Corps hospital on the Jacob Schwarz Farm on July 20, 1863, at the age of eighteen. The uncertainty surrounding his beloved younger brother surely plagued Harry during the duration of his captivity. Tragically, none of Harry’s wartime letters survive, so it is not known for sure whether he attempted to write home and inquire as to Horatio’s predicament, but he likely did.

Later that evening, Sergeant Hoffman once again approached Harry, this time bringing “a piece of hoecake and a chunk of bacon.” In parting, Harry remembered Hoffman said, “Good-bye, Sergeant Lewis, we have to move on up the road.” Harry lamented their parting, noting in his October 5, 1907, article that he “never met the fine fellow” again. Although their loyalties differed, Harry and Sergeant Hoffman shared the bond of all soldiers as well as a mutual code of honor that often imbued the martial interactions of men in the 19th-century. Additionally, the two were connected through their alternating experiences of captor and prisoner of war. The respect they accorded each other sprang from the just treatment they received while serving time as each other’s prisoner.

The Confederate captors provided the Federal prisoners with flour and kettles from a nearby farmhouse, but Harry felt unwilling to eat what he termed “paste,” at least, not “without any salt or milk.” However, some of his fellow prisoners were hungry enough to attempt to make a meal from the scant rations. Shortly afterward, it began to rain, until it seemed to Harry that “the whole country was afloat.”

Positioned between two brigades of General Longstreet’s First Corps, the prisoners began their southward march on July 5, two days after their capture. Much to Harry’s great interest, his position afforded him numerous opportunities to see the famous General Longstreet that day – an experience he likely never expected to have during the war.

General James Longstreet (Image from Library of Congress).

Harry noted that multiple prisoners attempted to escape, but each attempt failed, and the men “were driven back at the point of a bayonet.” The repeated escapes convinced the Confederates it was necessary to surround the prisoners with two columns of guards, one on either side. While Harry does not explicitly state whether he joined his comrades in attempting to escape, when referring to the escape attempts, he uses the term “us,” suggesting it was possible. His mind likely still on his severely wounded brother and comrades from whom each step southward he was becoming more distanced, Harry looked to his fellow prisoners-in-arms for comfort and strength to complete the long march to Richmond.

L’Italia Unità! L’America Unità![1]: Italians and the American Civil War

By Lauren Letizia ’23

Italian immigrants and their culture have greatly impacted the historic and modern landscape of the United States. From the creation of Columbus Day to The Godfather film franchise, Italians and Italian-Americans have been prominent pieces of the melting pot that is the American experience. Before their integration in the late 20th century, Italians were spurned by the largely English-Protestant Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries. Because most Italians were Catholic and had darker skin, they were not considered white and, like Irish immigrants, were prohibited from certain jobs because of their religion. Despite these social and economic obstacles of the 18th and 19th centuries, Italians and other immigrants were eager to support their adopted country. During the American Civil War, Italians made significant contributions to the Union war effort that have been largely overlooked in military and social histories.

When Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard officially instigated the war with his bombardment of the Federal Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thousands of Northern soldiers flocked to answer President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 military volunteers, swelling the force far beyond that number. Surprisingly, hundreds of officers and soldiers from the Italian Army traveled to the American legation in Turin to volunteer for the Union Army. Because of Italy’s parallel struggle for unification and liberty, Italian nationals strongly identified with the United States’ war aims. Additionally, many Italians were opposed to slavery based on their Catholic faith.  Interestingly, several hundred Italians did ultimately volunteer for the Confederacy, instead choosing to identify with its claim of “States’ rights,” which the individual kingdoms in Italy proclaimed prior to unification.

In Italy, a notice published by the American delegation via the Italian government stated that the Americans did not need Italian volunteers. When word reached United States Secretary of War, William Seward about the Italians’ enthusiasm, he ordered the American foreign minister to Italy, George P. Marsh, to investigate acquiring Italian volunteers, on August 19, 1861.

Since many of the Italians who wished to join the Union Army were experienced soldiers or officers in the Italian Army, they asked to be officers in America. However, Union officials balked because they did not believe the Italians spoke English well enough to command American soldiers. Moreover, financial obstacles blocked more extensive efforts to recruit Italians for the Northern cause. By the late summer and early fall of 1861, the United States’ economy began to feel the strain of the widening conflict and could not pay the Italians’ wages or travel expenses. Therefore, few enlisted Italian soldiers could afford to emigrate to the United States. Yet, financial problems did not stop the federal government from trying to recruit a select few Italians with particular military prowess.

Most notably, in 1861, President Lincoln offered the famous Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi a commission as a major general in the Union Army. In August, Seward claimed he had received a letter from Garibaldi stating his intention to accept Lincoln’s commission. Though his claims never came to fruition, as Italy continued to reel from its own civil war and Garibaldi was wracked by political controversy, he sent many of his officers to the United States. They were assigned to the command of Major General John Fremont, who served as the head of the Department of the West until 1862.

General Giuseppe Garibaldi (1860) Source; J. Paul Getty Museum (object no. 84.XM.637.9); Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Though Garibaldi did not come to America during the Civil War proper, his galvanizing spirit and revolutionary military campaigns abroad inspired Italian immigrants and Italian-American soldiers to take up arms in America’s Civil War. In May of 1861, the 39th New York Infantry nicknamed the Garibaldi Guard, was formed in New York City. Its soldiers wore brilliant red shirts and bersaglieri plume on their caps. Standard bearers carried the Italian flag alongside the American flag when they marched. Of the regiment’s 350 immigrant troops representing a kaleidoscope of European countries, 50 were Italians, and many served with great distinction. For example, during the Battle of Cross Keys on June 29, 1862, the 39th’s active commander, Captain Odoardo (Edward) Venuti, was wounded in action while leading his men. A little over a year later, Captain Venuti was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.  His name is etched on the New York State Monument to the Garibaldi Guard on Cemetery Ridge. According to its regimental history, the 39th NY lost “119 by death from wounds, and 159 by death from accident, imprisonment or disease, of whom 94 died in prison.”[2]

Garibaldi Guard Monument on the Gettysburg Battlefield Source; Gettysburg Stone Sentinels, “Union Monuments,”

James Clay Rice: 39th New York Volunteers Source; New York State Museum and Veterans Research Center, “39th New York Infantry Regiment,”

Though Garibaldi was unable to support the United States’ war effort physically, he and many other Italians supported the Union’s ideological cause, particularly emancipation and the abolition of slavery. On August 6, 1863, over a year after Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, General Garibaldi sent Lincoln a short but heartfelt letter stating his support for the decision:

“In the midst of your titanic struggle, permit me, as another among the free children of Columbus, to send you a word of greeting and admiration for the great work you have begun. Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure. You are a true heir of the teaching given us by Christ and by John Brown. If an entire race of human beings, subjugated into slavery by human egoism, has been restored to human dignity, to civilization and human love, this is by your doing and at the price of the most noble lives in America.

It is America, the same country which taught liberty to our forefathers, which now opens another solemn epoch of human progress. And while your tremendous courage astonishes the world, we are sadly reminded how this old Europe, which also can boast a great cause of liberty to fight for, has not found the mind or heart to equal you.[3]

In 1860, roughly 13 percent of the American population was foreign-born. Because these immigrants mainly settled in Northern industrial states, one in every four Union soldiers was an immigrant. Recent estimates claim that 534,000 men out of the 2 million United States soldiers were foreign-born. Moreover, approximately 18 percent of soldiers had at least one immigrant parent. Immigrants or immigrant-born soldiers made up 53 percent of the United States Army.[4] Between 5,000 and 10,000 Italians or Americans of Italian descent served in the American Civil War, mainly for the United States. They contributed significantly to vital battles such as the Second Battle of Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Harper’s Ferry. Major General Edward Ferrero, the highest-ranking Union officer of Italian heritage, led the 51st New York Infantry in almost all these significant battles except Gettysburg and Harper’s Ferry. Their war stories and experiences represent the collective effort immigrants from many nations put forth to fight for their new home’s ideals, to prove themselves as “true” Americans, and to affirm for their native homelands and the world that genuinely America was the last best hope for democracy on earth. As a country of immigrants, American Civil War history should include the victories and sacrifices of immigrant soldiers. Only by having their stories told will we gain a fuller picture of the vast impacts and legacies of the bloodiest war in our history.

Presidential Review of the Garibaldi Guard Source; Killed at Gettysburg,


American Battlefield Trust. “Giuseppe Garibaldi to President Lincoln.” Civil War Primary Source.

Belfiglio, Valentino J. “Italians and the American Civil War.” Italian Americana 4, no. 2 (1978): 163–75.

New York State Museum and Veterans Research Center. “39th New York Infantry Regiment.”

[1] Translation: Italy United! American United; Italians chanted the former during General Garibaldi’s campaigns for unification in southern Italy. Many Italian soldiers transferred their enthusiasm for a united Italy to the fight for union during the American Civil War.

[2] New York State Museum and Veterans Research Center, “39th New York Infantry Regiment,”

[3] American Battlefield Trust, “Giuseppe Garibaldi to President Lincoln,” Civil War Primary Source,

[4] Don H. Doyle, “The Civil War Was Won By Immigrant Soldiers,” Time, December 23, 2019.

The Forging of Braves: The Cherokee and the American Civil War

Lauren Letizia ’23

The American Civil War is one of the most widely studied areas of the United States’ history. Its battlefields are popular tourist sites, and its soldiers and generals are depicted in textbooks, paintings, and memorials across the country. The basic facts of America’s bloodiest conflict are well-documented: The Civil War between the Northern Union and the Southern Confederacy was a battle over the future of the mass enslavement of human beings and the fate of American democracy. After four gruesome years, three-quarters of a million soldiers and 50,000 civilians died, and 4 million African Americans were freed from slavery.

However, another hostile conflict exploded during the Civil War. Fueled by resentments and political angst from 20 years prior, the Cherokee Nation exacted revenge against the United States and the Southern states (respectively) that had destroyed their communities by participating in many battles on behalf of both the Confederacy and the Union.Not long before the war, the federal government had removed the Cherokee from their southern homes with the help of the soon-to-be Confederate state officials; by alternately taking up sides with each, the Cherokee were able to take out their anger against those whom they considered the prime oppressor of natives.  As a result of that participation, however, the Cherokee Nation emerged as the second-most devastated citizenry, behind the Southern Confederacy. Already struggling from their forced removal from the southern Appalachians to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839 during the Trail of Tears (1830-1850), the Cherokee people continued to die from diseases, hunger, exposure, and loss of land during the Civil War. Approximately one-third of the Cherokee population died between 1861 and 1865.[1]

The reasons for which the Cherokee and other Native Americans participated in the Civil War were quite different from those of white and black soldiers. Many nations chose sides or remained neutral to maintain the little land and property the government had given them. The Cherokees were the most populous of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee, Chickasaw, and Seminole). They were also considered the most assimilated of the tribes, commonly dressing in “white” clothing, using European farming techniques, and creating the only written Native language and newspaper.[2] Moreover, wealthy Cherokees often owned enslaved people and operated plantations. Of the 100,000 residents in western Indian Territory, 14 percent were enslaved Black Americans.[3] Because of the Cherokees’ heavy reliance on slavery, the Confederacy figured they could count on Cherokee support during the war. Additionally, some Native American nations cast their allegiance with the South because they deeply distrusted the United States federal government. This distrust, coupled with the similarities in their slaveholding political economy, resulted in the majority of the Cherokee Nation siding with the Confederacy. On 28 October 1861, a published declaration explained the Cherokee-Confederate alliance:

The Cherokee people had its origin in the South; its institutions are similar to those of the Southern States, and their interests identical with theirs. Long since it accepted the protection of the United States of America, contracted with them treaties of alliance and friendship, and allowed themselves to be to a great extent governed by their laws……

In now carrying this resolution into effect and consummating a treaty of alliance and friendship with the Confederate States of America the Cherokee people declares that it has been faithful and loyal to is engagements with the United States until, by placing its safety and even its national existence in imminent peril, those States have released them from those engagements.

Menaced by a great danger, they exercise the inalienable right of self-defense, and declare themselves a free people, independent of the Northern States of America, and at war with them by their own act. Obeying the dictates of prudence and providing for the general safety and welfare, confident of the rectitude of their intentions and true to the obligations of duty and honor, they accept the issue thus forced upon them, unite their fortunes now and forever with those of the Confederate States, and take up arms for the common cause, and with entire confidence in the justice of that cause and with a firm reliance upon Divine Providence, will resolutely abide the consequences.[4]

After the war began and an alliance was declared, previous internal wounds within the Cherokee Nation began to reopen between old rivals. Before the ethnic cleansing of the Five Tribes during the Trail of Tears, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross had refused to sign over his nation’s land. He had relocated to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) only under President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. Though many Cherokees saw Ross’s stance as solid and justified, an opposition group had emerged under the leadership of brothers Stand Watie and John Ridge. Calling themselves the Treaty Party, Watie recruited only 2 percent of the population to support signing over Cherokee land and relocating out west.[5] Watie and the Treaty Party signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, selling the nation’s territory to the federal government for $5 million. Ross and his 16,000 supporters were essentially forced to make this decision and ultimately traversed the country with the other Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.[6]

Once the Cherokees had settled into their new territory in Oklahoma, violence ensued between the two rival groups. On June 22, 1839, John Ridge, his uncle, and his cousin were murdered, most likely by Ross supporters. In response, those who supported Ridge allegedly raised funds to hire killers to murder Ross.[7] This plan was never enacted but solidified a blood feud between Watie and Ross. Moreover, the rivalry became subjected to racial tension between the Cherokees of “mixed-blood” and “full-blood.” Because Watie and members of the Treaty Party were mostly mixed-raced, Ross and his supporters questioned their loyalty to the nation and indigenous interests.[8] A fierce political fight for tribal control persisted until 1860, but Ross and the “full-blood” Cherokees maintained the nation’s leadership. An uneasy peace between Ross and Watie took hold.

Cherokee Chief John Ross (1858)
Encyclopedia Britannica,

When the Confederate government was formed in February 1861, the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, sought support from indigenous communities. Southern strategists knew protecting the Mississippi River and its surrounding fertile soil was vital to the war effort. Davis wanted to use Indian Territory and the west as a breadbasket and launching pad for military expeditions for Southern expansion. In late 1861, the Confederates made overtures to Chief Ross and the Cherokee Nation. Davis appointed the former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Albert Pike of Arkansas, as the negotiator and Southern messenger. He was well received by the Five Tribes and found them enthusiastic about a new country.[9] Within the Cherokee Nation, Stand Watie emerged as an ardent supporter of the Confederacy. An owner of approximately 100 enslaved people, he was motivated by many of the same political and economic interests as white Southerners. On July 12, 1861, he was granted a colonel’s commission in the Confederate Army and raised 300 indigenous soldiers into the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

CSA Colonel Stand Watie
“The Cherokee Registry,”

However, the leadership of the Cherokee Nation was much less enthused by the impending conflict. Principal Chief Ross vocally promoted neutrality. He stated, “We [the Cherokee Nation] do not wish our homes to become a battleground between the states and our soil to be rendered desolate and miserable by the horrors of civil war.”[10] Ross believed that maintaining the federal treaties with the United States would allow the Cherokees autonomy over their land and community. The Northern government, unfortunately, chose a lackluster approach to secure the alliance or neutrality of the Cherokees and the rest of the Five Tribes. The Lincoln administration and Congress gave Ross little financial or political incentive, weakening Cherokee and broader native acceptance of neutrality. As a result, Chief Ross dramatically shifted his view of the war. After calling a conference of tribal leaders, Ross urged his people to accept an allegiance with the South.[11] A treaty was signed on October 7, 1861. Ross’s decision has been highly criticized by modern historians. However, his nation had little to no support from the United States government and was surrounded by tribal nations already aligned with the Confederacy. Additionally, Ross received pressure from the rowdy minority of Stand Watie.

Though the Cherokee Nation was finally united in its alliance with the Confederacy, internal tensions continued to mount over the question of abolition. Stand Watie was a slaveholder, and many other Cherokee elite also owned or profited from slavery, including Chief Ross. On the other side, some Cherokee opposed slavery, such as the members of the traditionalist Keetoowah Society. This political animosity further deepened the existing schism between Watie’s mixed-bloods and Ross’s full-bloods, as Watie was much more vocal about preserving the “peculiar institution.” Consequently, Cherokee men served on both sides of the American Civil War.

The war was particularly fierce in Indian Territory. For three years, the Union and the Confederacy bludgeoned each other for control of the land and the allegiance of the tribes who occupied them; neither side could obtain absolute dominance in the region. The combat intensified as the Confederates utilized the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws in their pursuit of Arkansas. Initially, Native Americans were wary of leaving their land because they wished to use their new military status to protect their communities at home. In response, the Confederates tried to convince them to leave Indian Territory for Arkansas through lucrative economic offers, such as ensuring that the Native American soldiers promptly received their owed soldier’s pay.[12]

Flag of the Colonel Watie’s Mounted Rifles
“Cherokee Braves Flag,” Civil War Virtual Museum,

Under the command of Confederate negotiator, Albert Pike, two Cherokee mounted rifle units, a Choctaw-Chickasaw regiment, and a Muscogee regiment merged together to become what is known as Pike’s Indian Brigade, comprised of 2,000-3,000 indigenous soldiers. The most infamous engagement for the Cherokee was the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 7 and 8, 1862. Of the 2,500 Confederate troops involved in the Arkansas clash, almost 900 were Cherokee. The Cherokees, joined by some Texans, surprised Iowan cavalry regiments stationed on a small farm, severely wounding their lieutenant and capturing three Union guns. Notoriously, the Cherokees allegedly engaged in the scalping of dead and wounded Iowan soldiers to celebrate their small victory. However, while the Confederates celebrated, more Union troops arrived at Pea Ridge and ultimately pushed the Confederates into a retreat.

The Cherokees’ mutilations were said to have taken place in the woods, but Northern newspapers and military leaders decried the breach of conduct and pilloried Pike. He resigned from his commission in July of 1862. After the war, Pike was indicted in federal court for inciting war atrocities.[13] In the minds of Union troops, retaliation for these atrocities was the only solution. Captain Oliver Hazard Perry Scott of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry fumed, “There was two of them infernal Indians taken prisoner, and we have seen one that was killed. I wish it had been the last of that race. There was quite a number of our men scalped by them, two of our company…. There will be no quarter shown them after this, that is certain.”[14]

As the war continued, the Cherokee Nation remained burdened with political divisions. While Watie and his 2nd Mounted Rifles remained fervently loyal to the Confederate cause, Ross and the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles began to waver after the Confederate victories in the West began to slow in the Fall of 1862. Ross and Union-leaning natives thought of recasting their lots with the North.  As a result, a majority of the 1st Cherokee soldiers deserted and allied with the United States in October of 1862. The  rest of their regiment was dissolved and absorbed into that Colonel Watie’s command. Chief Ross traveled to Washington, D.C. one year later to ask President Lincoln for clemency, which he received. Ross’s three sons soon joined the Union Army. In contrast, Watie was the last Confederate colonel to surrender at the war’s end.

The 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles
“A Guide to Cherokee Confederate Military Units, 1861-1865,” The People’s Path,

Less than 30 years after the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee Nation and other Native Americans had been dealt another deadly blow. Thousands of indigenous people had died due to the American Civil War. Because there were no thorough census records of the native population in Indian Territory, it is unknown how many indigenous people perished, but some historians estimate the death rate was 50 percent of the populations in Oklahoma and Arkansas. After the war, the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) calculated 14,000 surviving Cherokees in Indian Territory, a decline from 21,000 before the Nation joined the conflict. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, D.N. Cooley laid bare the harsh reality of the war’s repercussions for the nation, stating, “[The Cherokee] need food, clothing, tools, everything in fact, to begin life again.”[15]

In addition to their physical and material losses, the Cherokee faced stark social deterioration. Unionist supporters and former Confederate allies exacted violence and retribution against one another. The OIA Southern superintendent stated that the Cherokee Nation’s enmity was so potent that “no human power can reconcile” the fractious community. He estimated that 10,500 Cherokees remained loyal to the United States while 6,500 had joined the Confederacy. Many pro-Confederate Cherokees remained estranged from the larger Cherokee Nation and Indian Territory altogether during the postwar years, including Stand Watie. He would die during the legal process to retain his pre-war home on September 16, 1871, in present-day Delaware County, Oklahoma.[16] His archrival, Chief Ross, died in Washington, D.C., on August 1,1866. Despite the significant indigenous death toll as a result of the war, neither the Confederate states  nor the federal government ever officially  acknowledged the vital role of indigenous military participation in the conflict. Particularly after the alleged atrocities at Pea Ridge,  white government officials once again saw Native Americans as “savages” in need of taming.

The struggle to rebuild the Cherokee Nation continued for decades after the Civil War. Because of federal reconstruction treaties foisted onto the Five Tribes, the Cherokee and other indigenous communities lost more of their autonomy and strength. The first treaty abolished African slavery in tribal nations—a necessary measure, but one which dealt a heavy economic blow to many Cherokee. The second treaty concession established an intertribal council on which the superintendent of the OIA would serve as chief executive. The third treaty demanded that all five nations acquiesce their land in various locations for the construction of railroads.[17]The United States exploited the nations’ vulnerable positions to extract more land concessions. The Cherokee Nation was forced to concede more territory to the federal government to relocate additional, unwanted indigenous communities from across the country into Indian Territory. Moreover, the Five Tribes were no longer in control of the distribution of their land and were forced to give tribal citizenship to Native Americans of other tribes as the United States government pushed indigenous people of different regions into Indian Territory. OIA and government officials believed this policy would lessen chances of intertribal warfare and harassment. To add insult to injury, no federal preference was given to those who remained loyal to the United States. All Native Americans were seen as equally fastidious and expendable. In 1865, the federal government told the chiefs of the Five Tribes that they had forfeited any tribal rights, land claims, and compensation once they joined the Confederacy. All members of the tribe who allied with the South were punished as traitors.

Freedmen camped in Cherokee territory
“Cherokee Nation Seeks Cherokee Freedmen Stories, Photographs,” Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Soul, February 4, 2022,

The American Civil War enveloped the entirety of the United States. Native Americans were too often caught in between two belligerent nations who did not truly care for their interests. The United States government had repeatedly violated treaties, while the Southern states had pushed the Five Civilized Tribes out of the region. Wedged between a rock and a hard place, the Cherokee and other nations tried to retain some semblance of unity, heritage, and autonomy as they were yanked between two self-serving actors. The Civil War considerably altered the fragile socio-political system of the Cherokee Nation, as it reopened existing wounds between two diametrically opposed leaders. Seen as mercenaries or convenient cannon fodder, the Cherokee Nation and other Native American tribes gained very little from their participation in the American Civil War. Furthermore, in an ironic twist, now that the nature of future western settlement had been determined through a war in which natives had played a significant role, native lands became tantalizing targets for national expansion and beacons for individualistic profiteering in the newly reunited America. As such, the war for indigenous rights and freedom would continue for centuries.

Cherokee Family (1935)
Domain unknown–466826317626266124/

[1] Grace Steele Woodward, The Cherokees, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963).

[2] “Cherokees at Pead Ridge,” American Battlefield Trust,

[3] “Five Civilized Tribes and the American Civil War,”

[4] “Declaration by the People of the Cherokee Nation of the Causes Which have Impelled Them to United Their Fortunes with Those of the Confederate States of America,” October 28, 1861, Cherokees and the American Civil War,

[5] Clarissa W. Confer, The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 20.

[6] Danna Bell, “The Cherokee Nation and the Civil War,” Library of Congress Blogs, November 10, 2022,

[7] Bell, “The Cherokee Nation,”

[8] “Five Civilized Tribes and the American Civil War,”,

[9]“Five Civilized Tribes and the American Civil War,”

[10] Confer, The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War, 42.

[11] Confer, The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War, 50.

[12] Robert Pahre, “How the Cherokee Fought the Civil War,” Indian Country Today, September 13, 2018,

[13] “Cherokees at Pea Ridge,” American Battlefield Trust,

[14] “Cherokees at Pea Ridge,”

[15] Confer, “The Cherokee Nation and the Civil War,” 144.

[16] Confer, The Cherokee Nation and the Civil War, 147.

[17] “Reconstruction Treatises,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society,,federal%20government%20and%20settled%20elsewhere.

Battlefields and Baseball: Affirmations of the All-American Identity

McKenna White ’25

It is no secret that one can find all manner of oddities in the shops of Gettysburg; however, located in a small basket on the floor of the Civil War Store’s back room is perhaps the last thing one would expect to find: A baseball. This baseball, pictured above, is covered with important battle dates and painted images of Civil War battlefields and generals. It even includes the signatures of Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Though these two things, baseball and the Gettysburg battlefield, seem mutually exclusive, they have both become staples of the all-American identity. Throughout the years, citizens of the United States have engaged in activities and practices that affirm their Americanness and affirm their patriotism to themselves and others. Baseball has become so entwined with American identity that it is commonly called America’s pastime and is the national sport of the United States. Players of the sport have also been regularly immortalized in trading cards and other related memorabilia.

In the same line of thinking, every year thousands of people from around the country make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg, the so-called “High-Water Mark of the Confederacy,” “turning point of the Civil War,” and site of  “America’s Bloodiest Battle”.  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that any “true” American citizen would want to possess an object that doubly re-affirms their patriotism, allowing them to remember, or in some cases prove, their visit to one of America’s most important historic sites while participating in the commercial culture of America’s favorite game.

Yet, the placement of these baseballs in the shop is also quite telling. First and foremost, they are located in one of the back rooms, situated amongst the novelty name keychains, plastic figurines and toy guns. Their location, combined with their placement on the floor and the fact that, although they commemorate some of the bloodiest battles in American History, these baseballs have no images of blood or gore, support the idea that the sale of these baseballs is targeted towards children, particularly young boys.

Imagine an 8-year-old boy walking into the shop during his family’s trip to Gettysburg. He drags his parents towards the room with all the toys and is immediately enthralled with the plastic rifles and miniature figurines; however, when he goes to take a closer look at the products, he notices a basket of Civil War baseballs that have pictures of battles and generals. He picks one up, thinking of how cool he will look showing it to his friends back home because it has not one, but two signatures of Civil War Generals, much like the baseball cards they’ve been collecting, or the baseball they might have taken to a game on which to collect signatures of their favorite players. Alternately, he might be thinking of how much fun he will have playing catch with his dad (what could be more American than that?). His parents agree to buy the baseball, simply happy he is “engaging” with the history around him.

For many, visiting Gettysburg is a rite of passage. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families visit the small Pennsylvania town every year, with tourist groups ranging from middle school class trips to Boy Scout Troops, to Veterans Associations. For some, it is their first taste of the history constituting what some scholars have termed “America’s only all-American conflict;” for others it is merely an assertion of their all-American identity—a pilgrimage to (arguably) their nation’s most famous “shrine.” For everyone, it is a unique experience that they want to remember and continue to engage with, in some form, well after their visit. How better to do so than by purchasing a Gettysburg-themed keepsake imbued with a jointly iconic symbolism of the United States: The baseball.