[pg. 7] WILLIAM C. CARROLL IN THE CIVIL WAR *** In later 1862, twenty-five-year-old William C. Carroll wrote a lengthy letter to U. S. Representative Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois discussing in considerable detail his experiences during the past year as newspaper correspondent, staff officer of Brigadier General John A. Logan, and volunteer aid to Major General Ulysses S. Grant for two days during the battle of Shiloh. Carroll told of his success in telegraphing news of Shiloh to the New York Herald before his competitors could contact their newspapers. During this crowded year, he had also met twice with President Lincoln.1
Carroll’s letter to Washburne appeared at first both interesting and important–but then encouraged doubts. Of the information provided, only his service on Logan’s staff could be verified from a printed source.2 Although Carroll stated that he was a correspondent for at least three major newspapers, his name appeared nowhere in the copious literature of Civil War journalism. His presence at Shiloh was not mentioned in Grant’s official report (in which he praised other staff officers individually) or in his Memoirs, and Carroll remained unnoticed in many accounts by others
[pg. 8] of the great battle. Although he indicated important political connections with both Republicans and Democrats, no record of these could be found, and especially disturbing was the thought that he could slip into the White House for two interviews with Lincoln, leave with two endorsements, and still evade both contemporary observers and later eagle-eyed Lincoln scholars. Carroll’s own account seemed to deserve the closest possible scrutiny in order to determine whether printed history had passed him by inadvertently or through some instinct for justice. The letter presented below, therefore, is heavily annotated with available documentation bearing on its contents.3
New York Decr 22d 1862
Hon E. B. Washburn
Dear Sir I have twice called to see you at 9 oClock P. M. having misread your card–and did not discover my mistake untill this morning.
In the event that I may again fail in my efforts to get an interview with you, I have presumed to acquaint you with the object I have in seeing you, in writing, hoping that the knowedge of the facts in relation to case I am about to inform you of will induce you to interest yourself in my favour–In order to furnish you with a proper idea of my situation I will be compelled to some extent to go into details–for which I beg your kind indulgence.
About the first day of April last at Cairo Genl Logan invited me to join his staff, promising that I should have rank and pay of at least a Captain.4 My admiration for the man induced me to resign my connections with the press–which up to this time had been my profession–and accept the offer of Genl Logan.
From Cairo, in company with Genl Logan–as his Aid de Camp–I proceeded up the Tennessee–it being his (Genl Logans) object to report to Genl Grant for duty.–having some business at Fort Donaldson with his old Regiment Genl Logan–stoped at Fort Henry–and ordered me to report to Genl Grant at
[pg. 9] Savannah and there await his arrival.5 I reached Savannah on the morning of the 6th of April and according to instructions reported to Genl Grant as the Aid-de-Camp of Genl Logan. Shortly after the report of the firing at Pittsburg Landing became audible–when I offered my services to Genl Grant as a Volunteer Aid–which he accepted,–and in this capacity I served with him throughout the two days conflict that raged at that that [cancelled] point.
On Monday Evening the 7th after the close of the fight discovering the bitterness of feeling and jelousy of Genl Buell and his officers, towards Genl Grant and the Illinois troops, and it being evident to me that an effort would be made on their part to bring them into disrepute by a series of false and slanderous reports, as a friend of Genl Grant and his army I determined if possible to defeat their ungenerous aims, by making a truthfull report of the battle, I accordingly–without signifying my intentions–obtained leave from Gen Grant, to proceed down the river–Commodore Wash Graham6 detaining a steamer untill I was prepared to leave–on this same steamer I discoverd some Reporters for Cincinnati papers who were friends of Buell an found them profuse in their denunciations of Genl Grant.7–not having been on the field like myself they had gained time on me in having most of their reports ready to go to press.–in order to overcome this advantage I got off the steamer at Fort Henry–the first telegraph station and there secured the lines and sent my account by telegraph to the N. Y Herald8–which was received in advance of the Government, and all other dispatches,–forwarded to the President, Senate, and House of Representatives–and then transmitted to all the leading papers in the loyal States–thus securing to the public the first–which was a favourable–impression in behalf of Genl Grant and his unconquerable army–most of which was composed of troops from Illinois,–that this account was truthfull and impartial and had the effect of preserving the reputation of Illinois which was being connived at by men like Buell and his confederates–I have had the assurance of most of the General and other officers of Genl Grants command without their knowing that I was the author of the account.
[pg. 10] Shortly after the battle at Pittsburg Landing I was summonsed to N. Y. by the Editors of the N Y Herald, to furnish a more detailed account–but arrived here to late to accomplish the object intended.–At this time Genl Logan furnished me with a letter to the Presdt requesting that I be appointed as an Aid-de-Campt with rank as Capt and assigned to him for duty–this was the time I saw you in Washington and by your request had an interview with the [cancelled] his Excellency with refference to the conduct of the Illinois troops–I presented the letter to his Excellency and secured his endorsement9–for the action of the Secty of War, who referred it to the Adjutant General.–I did not succeed in seeing the last named person,–and expecting that a battle would shortly occur near Corinth I preferred to return to the field and take the chances in the fight that was daily expected to take place rather than to await the action of the War Depart–supposing that the issuing of my commission was a mere matter of time
I rejoined Genl Logan at Camp No 4 before Corinth was with him in the fight on the right wing of the army on Thursday, before the Evacuation of Corinth,–and continued on duty with him as Aid-de-Camp and Actg Asst Adjt Genl–up to the 16th of September last.–Meanwhile no commission had made its appearance, consequently I could receive no pay. Shortly before this time Col Lagow10 informed me that Genl Grant could order me to be paid. Genl Logan–supposing that Genl Grant was in command of the Department (after Genl Halleck went to Washington to assume the duties of General in Chief of the Army) wrote to Genl Grant at Corinth requesting him to appoint me upon his (Genl Gra [cancelled] Grants) staff in order that I might receive pay for my services, this it proves Genl Grant had not the power to do–but in his reply to Genl Logan he urged him to apply to the President to have me appointed as an additional aid to one of the Major Generals of the regular army to take rank from the date of my entering upon duty to secure my pay and assigned to him, (Genl Logan) for duty,–at the same time acknowedging in his reply my deserts, as a competent and efficient officer and expressing a deep interest in my behalf.11–In compliance with the instructions from Genl Grant, Genl Logan sent my application to the President for my appoint
[pg. 11]ment, but no attention was paid to it.–As I could not sustain myself much longer without pay I was advised by Genl’s Grant and Logan–to proceed to Washington and there present my claims to the President–in person.–I was accordingly furnished with addition letter from Genl Logan12 besides the one from Genl Grant–and the first letter of Genl Logan bearing the endorsement of the President. Arriving at Washington Genl McClernard supplied me with a letter indorsing these recommendations and certifying to the services I had rendered in Camp and on the field.13 I was obliged to remain in Washington untill the return of the President and his suit from their visits to the army of the Potomac–after the battles of South Mountain and Antitam–and then learned that the power of the president to appoint additional Aids-de-Camp had been revoked. I however presented my papers to his Excellency–upon which he made the following endorsement to the Secty of war [five words cancelled] “Referred to the Secty of War. If this appointment can be made as suggested by Genl Grant, let it be done.” (signed) A. LINCOLN14
Col Dickey who was at this time in Washington15 interested himself in my matters, but nothing was accomplished. I was advised to leave my papers with Mr. Potts Chief Clerk to the Secty of War who promised to bring the matter to the attention of the Hon Secty but states that it would require a weeks time before I could get an answer.–I was then assured by Col Beckwith16 that the appointment could not be made as it conflicted with the law–which abolished the power of the president to make such appointments, but was told that it would not interfere with my payment for services rendered.–So I accordingly left my papers with Mr Potts for [cancelled] in hopes of getting Mr Stanton to make an order for my payment,17–my means then [cancelled] being nearly exhausted I came here in company with Col Dickey–and have since that time–nearly two months–heard nothing in relation to the matter. About the time I left the Army of the Tennessee at Jackson, Gov Yates who a long time previous had promised Genl Logan to notice my services–presented me with a complimentary commission as Major of Illinois Volunteers–“on account of meritorious services rendered at Shiloh”18 I was proud of this acknowedgement because it came from Illinois and shall ever feel gratefull for it, but sir this will not support me as I can draw no pay by it. I yielded up a salary of $2.000–a year as correspondent
[pg. 12] for the several papers, and used all the means I had to support myself in the service of my country. I have suffered my body to be a targate for Rebel bullets, ever since the army moved from Cairo on its victorious march southward. I have lain on wet blankets night after night, slept on the bloody field of Pittsburg Landing under drenching rain and in mud, and the only rest that the brave meek commander from Illinois received on the terrible night of the 6th of April last was in my arms while my eyes were unclosed,19 I have conducted every flag of truce for the care of our wounded that went from the command of the army of the Tennessee at Jackson, labored late and early in the official business of the “District,” and from exposure, contracted diseases which came within a hairs-bredth of termingting my existance, and while a correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, Louisville Journal,20 N. Y. Herald and other papers as far as my poor abilities would admit, every stroke of my pen was aimed for the honor of Illinois.
All these things have I done, but to find myself neglected, and about to realize the truth of the ingratitude of Republic’s I do not care for my personal safety I do not care for my life if my country, if the Union requires it for a sacrafice, but I do care for my honor, it is now compromised I entered the service under fair promises and have served faithfully, as the records will show. Genl Logan has done all in his power to fullfill the promises he made for [cancelled] to me–he did more–he beseached me to return to him if I failed in my object of securing my commission and that I should have the use of his salary so long as it lasted. Others who have accomplished nothing have recieved preferment–I do not even object to this so that I receive my rights. I am unwilling to surrender my claims untill they have first been established by the proper authority
I am here now amoung strangers my means are entirely exhausted–and since it does not appear to me probable that my claims upon the Govt will be speedily acknowedged–I desire to get back amoung my friends in the army.
You are the friend of Genl Grant and Logan–I was the friend to both when it was in my power to be so. I supported and had my papers to support Genl Grant when others who had a better right to be his friends, were his enemies. I therfore presume to ask that I [cancelled] you interest yourself in my favor If you can accomplish nothing for me at Washington, try and have me sent back to Genl Grants army and there I can manage to shift for myself–Illinois may accord to me the justice that the United States refuses
My friends there do not know the situation that I am in–and I lack the courage to inform them. I would not troble [cancelled] trouble you with this long complaint by I recd a letter from Col–now Genl John E. Smith at Washington, stating that when he was home during the summer he met you at Chicago and made mention of my case to you–“that you made a memorandum on the
[pg. 13] subject and assured him that you would be happy to attend to it.”–If possible I would be much pleased to see you before you leave if not let me request that you give me a reply to this letter and advise me as to the prospects of securing my desires.
I am dear Sir Your Obdt Servt W. C. Carroll
79 First Street
P.S. The letters of which I speak from Genls Grant, Logan and McClernand are still in the hands of Mr. Potts Chief Clerk to the Secty of War I will call on you to-morrow morning W. C. C.
As the notes should indicate, none of Carroll’s statements has been refuted, and many have documentary support. Washburne, at least, was sufficiently impressed with the case to write to Lincoln that Carroll deserved a hearing.21 Whatever the justice of his claims, however, he never received the coveted staff appointment, and evidence is lacking as to whether or not he received pay for the time he served on Logan’s staff. Perhaps he simply dropped the matter to pursue something more desirable. On March 2, 1863, Carroll prepared a petition asking appointment as provost marshal of the thirteenth district of Illinois on which he eventually secured the signatures of nine U. S. Representatives from Illinois (both Republicans and Democrats), and Governor Richard Yates.22 On May 5, Lincoln asked Provost Marshal General James B. Fry to appoint Carroll.23
By May 22, Carroll was ready for duty at Cairo,24 assuming responsibility for administering the draft and apprehending deserters in the southernmost counties of Illinois, an area of divided loyalty settled originally by southerners and geographically south of many Confederate
[pg. 14] bastions. Carroll began energetically, but had no chance to prove himself. Even before he reached Cairo, four men who had boarded at the same house in Washington swore to a statement that he was “disloyal in all his feelings and views.”25 This statement was sent to Lincoln,26 forwarded through Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to Fry, and brought back a curious letter from Fry urging that Carroll’s appointment be revoked: “He is not identified with the District, not in reality a resident of it, and there are other reasons why it is best to remove him.”27 Other reasons were, perhaps, most important to Lincoln as he ordered Carroll’s replacement that same day.28
Still not ready to be left out of the war, Carroll rejoined Logan’s staff as a volunteer in the closing days of the Vicksburg campaign, then obtained Logan’s support in raising a cavalry regiment in southern Illinois.29 Logan’s letter was favorably endorsed by Yates, and Carroll set to work. Finally, on February 12, 1864, Carroll was mustered into service as Major, Third Battalion, 13th Cavalry.
Carroll returned from a forage expedition of November 13-14, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to face charges of drunkenness on duty, disobedience to
[pg. 15] orders and neglect of duty (growing out of the plundering of troops while on the expedition), and, finally, disrespectful language in referring to Colonel Albert Erskine. Found guilty of every charge and specification, except one accusing him of calling Erskine “a damned consumate coward,” Carroll was cashiered.30 He then sought the aid of Lincoln. The court was prejudiced, he asserted, and the charges were unproved.31
Lincoln referred the transcript of the trial to Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, who seemed puzzled. Witnesses agreed that Carroll did drink on the fatal November 13–one defense witness who denied that Carroll was drunk admitted that he was intoxicated–but no clear evidence of drunken behavior appeared in the prosecution. Furthermore, Carroll attributed his condition to illness, and he had spend at least six weeks during the previous summer in the hospital with “Remittend fever.”32 Carroll had come out of a farmhouse twice during the evening to stop soldiers who were skirmishing with the farmer’s hogs, yet much livestock vanished during the night. The accusations concerning his denunciation of Erskine, sustained only by the sutler, seemed to indicate carelessness in speech rather than a military offense. Holt noted that eight officers of the regiment who wrote to express their confidence in Carroll blamed his conviction on the enmity of Erskine.
Holt concluded somewhat ambiguously that Carroll did not appear to be technically guilty of drunkenness while the other charges were “substantially
[pg. 16] sustained”; yet the contradictions in the testimony deserved presidential attention.33 Lincoln was assassinated, however, before he acted on Carroll’s case. Undaunted, Carroll drew on yet another influential friend, Major General William S. Rosecrans, for a letter to President Andrew Johnson. Carroll was “the ablest and most efficient Field officer of his Regiment,” Rosecrans asserted, and the conflicting testimony at the court-martial justified a reconsideration of the case. In endorsing this letter, Johnson disapproved the sentence of the court-martial and restored Carroll to duty.34
Carroll immediately resigned, perhaps by prearrangement, and Grant recommended acceptance.35 Carroll soon encountered one more problem with the army: denied back pay from the date of his cashiering to the date of his restoration to duty, he found himself “without any means whatever.”36 Grant recommended payment, and when the paymaster general insisted that special permission from the secretary of war would be necessary, Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana added a favorable endorsement.37 With back pay in hand, Carroll returned to his customary obscurity, from which he never returned. Whatever abilities he had shown early in the Civil War, which had won him the support of so many influential leaders, were presumably forgotten in the aftermath of an ill-starred forage expedition in Arkansas.
[notes originally appeared as footnotes]
1. Elihu B. Washburne Papers, Library of Congress. This letter is not in Carroll’s hand.
2. Logan to C. T. Hotchkiss, June 1862, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), I, x, part 1, 762. Hereafter O.R.
3. For information on Carroll we are much indebted to Roger D. Bridges, Illinois State Historical Library; Wayne C. Temple, Illinois State Archives; and, especially, Karl L. Trever, Grant Association searcher in the National Archives, whose resurrection of Carroll has been a minor miracle of archival technique.
4. In a letter to Governor Richard Yates of Ill., Aug. 24, 1863, Logan stated that Carroll “has been acting upon my staff from the time I was appointed Brig. Genl. [March 21, 1862] up to the close of last year, and subsequently at the siege and surrender of Vicksburg.” Letters Received, Volunteer Service Branch, Record Group 94, National Archives. Hereafter RG, DNA.
5. Logan reached Pittsburg Landing a few days after the battle of Shiloh. James P. Jones, “Black Jack:” John A. Logan and Southern Illinois in the Civil War Era (Tallahassee, 1967), 132; O.R., I, x, part 2, 102.
6. George Washington Graham of Cairo, Ill., a civilian employee of the quartermaster’s dept., served USG as steamboat superintendent. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant (Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill., 1967-), 2, 278n-279n.
7. Grant had already noted the hostility of Cincinnati newspapers. Ibid., 4, 292, 293n. Whitelaw Reid’s account of Shiloh for the Cincinnati Gazette, a journalistic classic, was most unfavorable to Grant.
8. The New York Herald, April 9, 1862, printed a dispatch sent from Fort Henry at 3:20 a.m. that same morning, which scooped all other newspapers on the battle of Shiloh. The reporter who sent the dispatch spoke of arriving at the battle about 9:00 a.m. on April 6, about the time Grant arrived, wrote as if he had been with Grant during the battle, included information (notably a remark that Major General Lewis Wallace took the wrong road to the battle) which suggested a proximity to headquarters, and favored Grant by stating Confederate losses as double those of the U. S. Authorship of this dispatch has been credited to New York Herald reporter Frank G. Chapman. J. Cutler Andrews, The North Reports the Civil War (Pittsburgh, 1955), 177-179. The evidence for this is thin, and Chapman was no favorite at Grant’s headquarters.
9. In a letter to Lincoln, April 15, 1862, Logan introduced “Captain Carroll–of N. Y. Herald–Who acted as Vol Aid to Genl. Grant in the late battle,” and requested a staff appointment for him. Lincoln dated his endorsement April 30. “This letter is written by (now) Brig. Genl. Logan, who went out of Congress to command a Regiment and faught at Belmont & Fort Donaldson being wounded at the latter place–Let him be obliged in the desired Staff appointment if possible” Copy, Correspondence Relating to the Provost Marshals, Illinois, 13th District, RG 110, DNA. Letters in this file were copied and certified in the paymaster general’s office.
10. Col. Clark B. Lagow, Grant’s aide.
11. On. Aug. 3, 1862, Grant acknowledged Logan’s letter “asking Me to appoint Cap’t Carroll on My Staff and assign him to yours.” Grant explained that he could not comply because he was neither major general in the regular army nor officially commander of a department, but suggested a request to Lincoln. “I can testify to the Efficiency and credit due to Captain Carroll and will be pleased to see him receive the appointment saught.” Copy, ibid. On Oct. 9, Lincoln endorsed this letter. “Submitted to the Secretary of War–If the appointment can be lawfully made as suggested by Genl. Grant let it be done” Copy, ibid.
12. Logan to Lincoln, Sept. 16, 1862, copy, ibid. This letter was favorably endorsed by Maj. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau.
13. Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand to Lincoln, Oct. 9, 1862, copy, ibid.
14. See note 11.
15. On Sept. 28, 1862, by Special Orders No. 205, District of West Tenn., Grant sent Col. T. Lyle Dickey, his chief of cavalry, to Washington to obtain carbines.
16. Col. Edward G. Beckwith, then in the commisary dept. In late 1862, however, he expected appointment as a paymaster. Roy P. Basler, et al., eds., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, 1953-5), V, 426. Hereafter Lincoln, Works.
17. On Oct. 17, Carroll wrote to the war dept. asking pay for time served on the staffs of Grant and Logan. He enclosed the letters of Grant, Logan, and McClernand, cited above, and a letter of U. S. Representative Erastus Corning of N. Y. Register of Letters Received, RG 107, DNA.
18. On Sept. 16, 1862, Yates commissioned Carroll major to rank from April 7. Executive Record, Illinois State Archives.
19. Grant later recalled that he had spent that night under a tree in the rain, but did not mention Carroll. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-6), I, 349.
20. George D. Prentice, editor of the Louisville Journal, wrote to Lincoln, March 11, 1863, stating that Carroll had been an army correspondent for his newspaper. Correspondence Relating to Provost Marshals, Illinois, 13th District, RG 110, DNA. Carroll stated that he had been Cairo correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Louisville Journal in a letter to O. M. Hatch, July 30, 1862, Hatch Papers, Illinois State Historical Library.
21. Feb. 19, 1862, Correspondence Relating to Provost Marshals, Illinois, 13th District, RG 110, DNA. U. S. Representative William P. Kellogg of Ill. also signed the letter.
23. Lincoln, Works, VI, 198.
24. Carroll to Fry, May 22, 1863, Letters Received 1863, RG 110, DNA. Additional letters from Carroll during his brief term as provost marshal are in this series, others are in Letters Received by the Disbursing Branch, and Carroll’s own letter press book is in Records of the 13th District, Illinois.
25. Benjamin Caywood et al., May 21, 1863, Letters Received 1863, ibid.
26. William P. Dole to Lincoln, May 21, 1863, ibid.
27. John G. Nicolay to Stanton, May 22, 1863, ibid.; Fry to Stanton, May 26, 1863, Letters Sent to the Secretary of War, ibid. Carroll was born in New York City; no other information about his prewar residence is at hand.
28. Lincoln, Works, VI, 232.
29. Logan to Yates, Aug. 24, 1863, Letters Received 1863, RG 110, DNA. A letter of Ill. Secretary of State Ozias M. Hatch and Ill. Auditor Jesse K. Dubois to Fry, Dec. 15, 1863, ibid., implies that Fry had urged the appointment of Carroll as colonel of the regiment, but perhaps they had created a misunderstanding themselves in a letter to Stanton, Nov. 29, which spoke of Carroll recruiting a regiment without mentioning the name of any potential commander. C1400 VS 1865, Document File, Volunteer Service Division, RG 94. They also stated that Grant had written a letter endorsing the project. Grant’s approval is mentioned in E. M. Gorde to Carroll, Nov. 1863, O. M. Hatch Papers, Illinois State Historical Library.
30. The transcript is Court-Martial Case File 00 173, RG 153, DNA.
31. Carroll to Lincoln, undated, C1400 VS 1865, Document File, Volunteer Service Division, RG 94, DNA.
32. Asst. Surgeon D. McL. Miller, Little Rock, to Surgeon Joseph R. Smith, Sept. 18, 1864, Illinois, 13th Cavalry, Carded Records, RG 94, DNA.
33. Holt to Lincoln, April 3, 1865, C1400 VS 1865, Document File, Volunteer Service Division, RG 94, DNA.
34. Rosecrans to Johnson, April 27, 1865, endorsed by Johnson May 5, ibid.
35. Carroll to Adjutant General of the Army, May 8, 1865, endorsed by Grant May 18, ibid.
36. Carroll to Adjutant General of the Army, June 6, 1865, ibid.
37. Grant endorsement June 6, and Dana endorsement June 19, ibid.