Thursday, 1863 November 19, Norfolk, Virginia: “I have not applied for any permit to bring my wife here but shall try to do it by stratagem . . . I do not wish to appear before the War Dept. in the character of an idler and sybarite”

[A Union general writes from an occupied Confederate Virginia city about his efforts to obtain leave and the recruitment of African-American soldiers.]

Norfolk, Va.
Thursday Nov. 19 [1863]
My Dear Kinsley,
Good and faithful servant!
I would be very glad indeed to see you in Philadelphia–But
can’t be sure of reaching there at exactly
at any time As I do not ask leave
of absence until the last minute
and Gen. Butler [Benjamin Franklin Butler] went yesterday
down to Newberne [New Bern, North Carolina] and will be
gone a week more or less. I
may fail of reaching Phila. [Philadelphia] at all
may get no further than Baltimore
But my project is to leave here on
the 24th reach P. [Philadelphia] at noon or 2 P. M. of
the 25th–spend the 26th, and return as
soon as may be. I have not applied
for any permit to bring my wife here [Frances Ellen Sullivan Wild]
but shall try to do it by stratagem
in the way abovementioned–As
I do not wish to appear before the War Dept. in the character of an
idler and sybarite.
I do not know if you ever [received]
my thanks for your raspberry syrup. Your previous letters
[reverse page]
letters had asked me & Col. Beecher [James Chaplin Beecher]
repeatedly what we wanted—and to
let you know whatever it might be.
Well, we consulted, and found we wanted
so many things that we did
not know where to begin. And we
could not agree upon the first
thing to ask for; until the raspberry
syrup arrived, and then we
agreed at once, that that was precisely
the article we wanted first.
It reached us on Folly Island [South Carolina]
in hot weather, and I think suited
the case exactly.
Your cousin was delayed by
sickness from joining us for some time—so I have hardly met
him. We are mighty busy. I
have now the 1st U. S. Col.—the 5th U. S. Col.—the 2nd N. C. Col.—beside
the recruiting of the 3rd N. C. C. and the10th U. S. Col. here. [Editor: See below for regimental identifications.]
If you could spare 2 days longer
you could be accommodated easily at
my sister’s in Phila. [Philadelphia].This not being
official—is not appropriate to be sent to Gov. Andrew.
Yours very truly
E. A. Wild

[Editor: Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild (1825–1891), a zealous abolitionist, organized and commanded “Wild’s African Brigade” of African-American soldiers recruited in Virginia and North Carolina. Headquartered in Norfolk (which had been under Union military occupation since May 1862), the brigade was comprised of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Colored Volunteers (later the 36th and 37th United States Colored Troops [USCT]). On the day of Wild’s letter, 270 miles away, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address.
Edward Wilkinson Kinsley (1829-1891), a wool merchant with the Boston firm of Horsell, Kinsley and French, was a special emissary of Massachusetts’s abolitionist governor John Albion Andrew (1818–1867). During the Civil War he undertook special assignments regarding the recruitment of black Massachusetts regiments. In 1863 he assisted General Wild in the recruitment of ex-slaves into “Wild’s African Brigade” comprising several regiments of the USCT. He did not wish to be seen as interfering with existing Union military leadership and therefore travelled as Wild’s servant, hence the humorous salutation of ‘good and faithful servant.’”
At the time of Wild’s letter, Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818-1893) commanded the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. Colonel James Chaplin Beecher (1828-1886), commander of the 35th USCT, was a half-brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), and Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), a prominent abolitionist, clergyman, and social reformer. During the summer of 1863 Colonel Beecher’s regiment, then designated 1st Regiment North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (African Descent), was organized at New Bern, North Carolina, and Portsmouth, Virginia, and attached to Wild’s African Brigade at Folly Island, South Carolina, to February 1864 when its designation was changed to 35th USCT. At the end of the war Colonel Beecher received the rank of brevet brigadier general for his wartime services.
Wild’s letter identifies some of the black regiments organized in or assigned to Virginia and North Carolina under his command during 1863-64: [“1st U. S. Col.”] 1st United States Colored Troops; [“5th U. S. Col.”] 5th United States Colored Troops (previously 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry); [“2nd N. C. Col.”] 2nd Regiment North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (African Descent), later 36th USCT; [“3rd N. C. C.”] 3rd Regiment North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (African Descent), later 37th USCT, and, [“10th U. S. Col.”] 10th United States Colored Infantry.]

MSS 12020

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