Amanuensis To Some Military Past: Francis Marion Minor and the 1863 Federal Draft

Harper's Weekly, 14 March 1863

The conscription bill enrolls all the males of the loyal States (including Indians and negroes) between the ages of 20 and 45 into a national militia, and empowers the President to call them into the service of the United States for three years or the war.

Congress has wisely empowered the Executive to receive a sum of $300 from any drafted man who prefers paying to serving.  This sum, it is believed, will always secure a substitute.  Clergymen, professional men, large merchants and manufacturers, and others who are of more use to the country while prosecuting their various peaceful avocations than they would be if forced to carry a musket, will thus be exempted, while the class of men which take their place will receive money enough to keep their families as comfortably as if they had remained at home.

Under the operation of the Act the President will be enabled to recruit our armies to the full standard when the time of the nine months’ men expires, and the hopes of the rebels–which have been re-echoed by the correspondents of disloyal journals–that our armies would melt away in the spring will be thoroughly defeated.

This week’s Civil War and Reconstruction Era reading assignment included this report on the legislative achievements of the Thirty-seventh Congress.  *ding*  A little bell rang in my head.  I rushed upstairs to my Minor Satchel, and gingerly opened it’s mouth.  Carefully I searched among its contents, and found IT: a letter, previously sorted and stored in an annotated acid-free sleeve.  AHA! I do have a personal connection to this tidbit of Yankee news.

The Letter

I John Philan of Waynesburg Greene County Pa. hereby certify that I as the agent of Francis Marion Minor of Greene Township Greene County Penna procured William H MKee of Allegheny County Pa to act a s a substitute under the Draft of last summer, for the Minor who was drafted under that Draft, as he is also under the present Draft as I am informed.  I paid the money to the said M’Kee for the said Minor, and saw him sworn into the service of the United States in the Company of Capt Cru in the 168 Regimentof Pennsylvania Militia and procured from Capt Cru a certificate of the fact which I subsequently returned to said Minor.  My recollection is that the said M’Kee represented himself to be over the age of forty five, which was my opinion from his appearance.                                                                         J. Philan

I Christian C Rushe of Greene Township Greene County Penna hereby certify that I was drafted under the Draft of last summer and served my time out in the Company Capt Cru 168 Regt Penna Militia and was regularly discharged on the 25 day of July A.D. 1863  I knew John (William is written and crossed out) H. M’Kee above named as a member of said Company, and know that he served out his time in said company and was regularly discharged at the same time I was My recollection is that the said M’Kee represented his age to be fifty five years.

These statements were sworn before the Justice of the Peace on 8 August 1863.

Company A, 168th Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry records show that the said Private John M’Kee was mustered out with the company on July 25, 1863.  There is no record of Francis Marion Minor serving at any point during the civil war.

My conclusion? Francis Minor paid a John M’Kee to substitute for him in the Federal conscription of 1862.  Further more, my great-great-grandfather Minor was one of 292,441 men living north of the Mason-Dixon line, who received  draft notices the summer of 1863, and he was one of the 52,288 whose service was commuted.  In fact, of the nearly 300,000 men called up only 9,881 actually were successfully drafted into Union service.  (Final Report of the Provost Marshal, Journal of the House of Representatives, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1866, vol.4, House Exec. Doc. 1, pp. 175, 184, 199, 212.)

So many questions float to the surface of my mind:  When was the first conscription declared and what were its exemptions?  What did Francis Minor do during the Civil War that gave him the capital to pay agent John Philan to find  a substitute soldier?  Why wouldn’t he want to serve?  Who was this John M’Kee, who needed the money Francis Minor could afford to part with?  What sort of man was he?

I will pay close attention to the remaining, untranscribed satchel contents, hoping for further clues about the life and times of Francis Marion Minor.

Military Monday: The Dodsons of Company B

This post is the next in a series about the Civil War service of William Greene Dodson, detailed in A Mom’s Goodbye, The Cruel War Is Raging and The Cruel War Is Raging, Johnny Has To Fight.
Muster cardsconcise who-what-when story lines. I LOVE these mines of family history. My current extraction comes from the Civil War Service Records, housed in the National Archives and digitized through Footnote.com. I add my knowledge of 1860 Federal Census data for Mecklenburg County, Virginia and my grandmother’s family history to discover that Greene Dodson served as a private—without pay– in Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry for the months of May and June 1864, having enlisted in Mecklenburg County on April 15, 1864. T. T. Pettus enrolled Greene for the duration of the war, and told him that he was entitled to a bounty for his enlistment.

The muster card for Ben Dodson shows that he, too, served—without pay– for those spring months.

Muster cards provide the who, what and when—but not the why, where and how of a fuller family story. I was spurred into this deeper research by some mystic mom-to-mom connection: What battle action did Greene Dodson see? Where was he stationed? What news would Sarah Jane receive about her son?

First I had to address my limited knowledge of military jargon, and place Greene into a larger Confederate force.

Company B was one of perhaps 10 companies in the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry. Each company was hopefully close to its 100 man quota. The 34th Regiment was serving with the 26th, 46th and 59th Virginia Regiments, forming a brigade under General Henry A. Wise. The brigade had been called from duty on Richmond’s fortifications in September 1863 to join General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department of the Carolinas and Virginia, defending the coastline of the Carolinas.

With this knowledge I knew then that Greene and Ben Dodson were serving under the Beauregard command in May and June. A quick scour of the Internet led to a speech given in 1870 by Henry A.Wise in which he gave the history of the brigade under his command.

(“Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 25., The Career of Wise’s Brigade, 1861-5.” Perseus Digital Library. Web. 22 Oct. 2010. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2001.05.0283>.)

Huzzah!!

The 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry was called off the coastal defenses in April 1864, when Beauregard received the order to hurry north to defend Petersburg and Richmond from Union General Butler’s advancing Army of the York. “The brigade was pushed forward with all expedition, reached Petersburg punctually, and from that time to the surrender at Appomattox, was, I may say, constantly under the fire of the enemy in the trenches and fields around Petersburg…”

General Lee was confronting Grant north and east of Richmond at this time, which had allowed Butler’s army to land unopposed at City Point and Bermuda Hundred, a peninsula on the James River north of City Point. While Butler’s men built entrenchments straddling the Appomattox River, Beauregard had General W.H.C Whiting position troops in and around Petersburg; the 34th Virginia was one regiment posted north of the Appomatox with Whiting. Beauregard took a further 8,000 troops at Drewry’s Bluff where he successfully defended Fort Darling from Butler’s army in mid-May, driving them back to their entrenchments in Bermuda Hundred. The 34th Virginia took part in the fight when the Union troops reached Walthall Railroad junction, where the Confederate Army “was very decided in capturing 6,000 prisoners and in shutting Butler up, as General Grant said, in Howlett’s Neck, ‘like a fly in a bottle.'”

Greene and Ben could have been there, could have heard this noise, could have seen these prisoners. In all likelihood the Dodsons of Company B were also in the thick of it when Wise’s Brigade joined up with Beauregard’s army. From May 18th until May 28th, 1864 there was heavy fighting along the whole s picket line, culminating in a charge by the 600 men of Wise’s Brigade. “The 600 carried the front before either brigade came up; so rapid and so undaunted was this charge of the 600 it was Balaklava like. This charge was made in open field for one-half a mile, under 10 guns, against a full line of infantry in parapet. The men, though falling ‘like leaves of Vallambrosa,’ moved steadily up under the point blank fire until within ten or twenty paces, when the enemy threw down their guns and cried for quarter. “

Thus young Greene, just barely 18, ended his first month of service to the Confederate States of America.

June 1864 saw the arrival of Grant’s troops in the Petersburg area. Having been defeated again and again by a tenacious rebel army, Grant decided to leave Lee guarding Richmond from the north and east, sweep broadly east across two rivers, and lead his army up the James River, capturing the railroad center—Petersburg—before trying once again to capture the capital, Richmond. General Beauregard was the first Confederate commander to scout and anticipate this bold Union plan, and while waiting for Lee to concur and send supporting troops, Beauregard had to defend Petersburg with a mere 15,000 men, Greene and Ben Dodson among them.


Lee had, at the eleventh hour, finally agreed with Beauregard’s conclusion about Union troop movements. His orders to send reinforcements to the south’s railroad heart 17 June kept Petersburg from falling, but the 34th Regiment and the rest of the Confederate line had retreated to a more defensible line, dug by slaves, citizens and soldiers bearing tin cups and bayonets.

The trenches of Petersburg were now full. Their occupants, Greene and Ben among them, would remain in contact with the enemy for nine more months, and their interactions determine the outcome of the Civil War—for the Dodson family, the state of Virginia and for the Union of the States.


Wordless Wednesday: The Dodsons of Company B

 

Confederate Breastworks in Front of Petersburg, Virginia, 1865.

Confederate Breastworks, Petersburg, Virginia, 1865

 

I imagine the newly enlisted man-child, Pvt. William Greene Dodson, sitting on a train to Petersburg, in the company of his uncle, Sgt. Benjamin F. Dodson and other Mecklenburg County farmers.  The sights, smells and sounds of battle were yet but words from others’ mouths.  Would this young man have been excited? Scared? Resolute?

Company B, 34th Virginia Infantry arrived in  Petersburg May 1864 as part of Wise’s Brigade, under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, and were charged with the protection of the railroad hub. Greene and Ben would have welcomed the local Citizen’s Militia who helped swell the troops’ numbers to a scant  2,200 bodies.  Perhaps Greene wondered what kind of hell he had entered, as he stared at this landscape, stripped of trees, riddled with tunnels, rifle pits and bombproofs.  A bleak reality must have confronted the young soldier, even before the first bullets whistled in his ears.

Tech Thursday: Blogging from Word

Today is Tech Thursday–my day to play in the technology of blogging and learn a new skill. My frustration was tested this morning as I experimented with ways to download documents from Footnote.com and develop Word documents around them, which could then be posted to my blog via Word. It sounded so simple, since I have worked to proficiency on each step. HA! I had to finally calm down and think like a teacher:

Remember to start at the very beginning, and read some directions.

First, update the blog address on file in the Word program. Go to publish from the Drop Down Windows box, and manage your blog account. The directions are easy to follow if one remembers to think like a computer.

Next, note that downloaded documents from Footnote are opened with Windows Photo Gallery. The image can then be right-clicked, copied and pasted into a Word Document.

Once this was done I had this image of my great-great-uncle’s Civil War enlistment papers.

This copy looks washed out and is difficult to read. I clicked on the image and got to Word Picture Tools, which includes a great “document reader” in the left hand tool box. Reducing the Brightness by 30% yielded this:

Increasing the Contrast by 30% yielded this effect:

Next I tweeked the image by decreasing the Brightness to 40% and increasing the Contrast to 40% :


Finishing touches were added by compressing the image a smidge and adding a nice border from the middle of the Picture Tool bar.

Publishing to my blog required saying yes to the Microsoft prompt “do you really want us to send this even though people might be able to see your username and password if we send this?”–several times.  But finally computer met internet and Voila!

What you see is what I sent!  It was simple after all.


The Cruel War Is Raging, Johnny Has To Fight

This is the third post in a series about young William Greene Dodson that began with A Mom’s Goodbye and The Cruel War Is Raging.

The Dodson Farm, Mecklenburg County, VirginiaThe land of Mecklenburg County, Virginia rolls from pasture to forest to creek.  Wild roses and honeysuckle form dense thickets, and glossy leaves of poison ivy climb oak and ash and maple.  In the 1860s this was farm country, dependent on bonded black labor to make its red soil produce abundant crops of tobacco, corn, hay.  And from her male ranks came soldiers prepared to fight for the right  to prosper by the South’s peculiar institution–slavery.

Among these men, in March of 1864, were William Green Dodson, age 18,and his uncle, Benjamin Franklin Dodson, age 37. Digging around in the archived Civil War Service Records within Footnote.com I discovered the elements of Ben and Greene’s 1864 story.  I then correlated that keystone data with information from the 1860 Federal Census and the book Chase City and Its Environs to tell this family tale.





Ben Dodson enlisted 8 March 1862 with Captain Thomas Taylor Pettus, commanding officer, signing his papers in Mecklenburg County.  The husband of Delia Boyd Dodson and father of five little ones signed up for the duration of the war. Ben Dodson was mustered in a 3rd Sergeant in the 4th Regiment Virginia Heavy Artillery, which was attached to the command of Brigadier-General Henry Wise.  During the Battle of Seven Pines, 31 May-1 June 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia, this unit manned the heavy guns at Drewry’s Bluff, successfully repulsing the advance of the Federal gunboats the Monitor and the Galena.  The men of Company B saw action again during the Seven Days Battle, at Frazier’s Farm and Malvern Hill, Virginia 25 June-1 July 1862.  The Brigade was then attached to the Department of Richmond and held the lines around the capital until 1863.

A view of Richmond, Virginia 1862

Ben Dodson fell ill during that guarding of Richmond.  The farmer was furloughed to recover at his home 25 October 1862 and rejoined his company in early 1863.


Ben Dodson led his men throughout the company’s 1863 defense of Charleston, South Carolina’s seacoast, under the command of Colonel John T. Goode, Major John R. Bagby, and Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Harrison, with the regiment attached to the forces commanded by General G. T. Beauregard.

8 March 1864 the 4th Regiment Heavy Artillery was redesignated the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.

On 17 March 1864 Ben received leave to go home to Mecklenburg County for 15 days.

On 15 April 1864 William Greene Dodson enlisted, again,

…with Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry. Captain T. T. Pettus mustered him in as a private, to serve under his uncle, Sergeant Ben Dodson, for the duration of the war.

There are no muster cards on file to shed light on how Greene Dodson went from being a private with Company I, 25th Infantry Battalion in Richmond, December 1863, to being a private with his uncle’s regiment April 1864.  I am left with questions:  Why did Ben come home? Was he just needing a break? Was he recruiting?  Why was Greene home?  What words were exchanged between nephew and uncle? Did Sarah feel more or less relieved that her son was joining a close relative’s company?

One thing is certain: Ben and Greene returned to Company B that April 1864 in time to be swept up in General Beauregard’s move toward Petersburg, Virginia.  The families would be changed forever by that hot and dusty summer.

Next:  The Dodsons of Company B defend Petersburg.


View of Town. (Petersburg, Virginia.)

A view of Petersburg, Virginia 1864