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John Wolcott Phelps Correspondence

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John Wolcott Phelps was born in Guilford, Vermont and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1836. On May 2, 1861, Phelps was appointed Colonel of the 1st Vermont Infantry and was mustered into U.S. service on May 8. He was promoted to brigadier general on May 27, 1861. General Phelps was stationed at Camp Parapet in Carrollton, seven miles from New Orleans. Many fugitive slaves arrived at the camp seeking refuge. Phelps sought to create three regiments of black soldiers, but his commanding officer, General Butler, ordered that they be made laborers. Unwilling to employ the Africans as mere laborers, General Phelps offered his resignation on August 21, 1862. General Butler refused to accept it. Later that August, General Phelps returned his commission to President Abraham Lincoln. Phelps went on to become the candidate for the American Party/Anti-Masonic Party for president in 1880.

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Time Period Covered: May 1, 1861 - April 18, 1863 

Parent Collections

Vermonters in the Civil War

Published:  March 04, 2011,  University of Vermont, Bailey/Howe Library, Center for Digital Initiatives

Rights:  Requests to reproduce this item should be sent to the UVM Libraries' Center for Digital Initiatives at cdi@uvm.edu. For more information, see http://cdi.uvm.edu/about/rights. More information.


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Title:   E. V. N. Hitchcock to John Wolcott Phelps

Creator:  Hitchcock, E. V. N.

Date:  1863-03-02

Resource type:   correspondence

Topics include camping outside of Fort Pickens at Camp Stoughton, the good health of the regiment, the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac, and the ungentleman-like ways the officers act. Hitchcock's mood is fairly upbeat but realistic: predicting the end of the war is difficult; a long expected attack on the island never occurred (indicating a fault in intelligence?); army life is good, but he hopes Phelps can find a better situation for him. Hitchcock mentions the "negro regiment" in charge of Ship Island.

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    Title:   E. V. N. Hitchcock to John Wolcott Phelps

    Creator:  Hitchcock, E. V. N.

    Date:  1863-03-14

    Resource type:   correspondence

    Hitchcock learns that Phelps is nominated to be a Major General. Concludes letter with another carefully worded appeal to Phelps for a better position, preferably under Phelps's command. (Hitchcock underlines the word "inactivity.") Details in between include mail that has arrived, including a Brattleboro newspaper (title unknown); a new "conscript act" (Conscription Act: passed by the Union in late February and signed by Lincoln in March, 1863); preparations for summer and the anticipation of a large shipment of ice; officers busy with a Court Martial; and the continued good health of the regiment.

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      Title:   Erastus Fairbanks to John Wolcott Phelps

      Creator:  Fairbanks, Erastus

      Date:  1861-07-29

      Resource type:   correspondence

      Letter from Vt. House Rep. Erastus Fairbanks writing about the storage of military equipment that has not otherwise been disposed of at Fort Monroe, Va., mentions loss of supplies by the 2nd Regiment at Manassas.

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        Title:   Erastus Fairbanks to John Wolcott Phelps

        Creator:  Fairbanks, Erastus

        Date:  1862-09-23

        Resource type:   correspondence

        Topics include the conduct of the 7th Vermont Regiment and the lack of newspaper coverage of the Regiment's positive attributes. The battles in Maryland would include Antietam Creek, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Fairbanks also mentions a rumor of Phelps's resignation, which had indeed occurred in August, 1862. Some thoughts about slavery, government, and the Constitution.

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          Title:   Erastus Fairbanks to John Wolcott Phelps and [Daniel] Roberts to Erastus Fairbanks

          Creator:  Fairbanks, Erastus

          Date:  1861-06-04

          Resource type:   correspondence

          First letter is from Governor Erastus Fairbanks writing from St Johnsbury, Vt. Topic includes scandalous reports of officers in the 1st Regiment regarding the neglect of sick soldiers by the surgeon and assistant surgeon in military hospital. Second letter to the Gov. from Danl. Roberts writes of the sources of the reports and that the matter requires investigation.

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            Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

            Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

            Date:  1862-08-08

            Resource type:   correspondence

            Topics include Mrs. Holbrook requesting General Phelps to forward her letters to her son and Frederick Holbrook inquiring after the sick men and the number of surgeons. Holbrook expresses frustration that the Vt. Regiments (7th & 8th) are still not under Phelps's command, per an agreement with Gen. Butler. Holbrook also mentions Phelps's "Dark Brigade," black troops that Phelps recruited in Louisiana without permission from the War Dept. (Phelps resigned in Aug., 1862.)

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              Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

              Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

              Date:  1861-08-27

              Resource type:   correspondence

              Topics include John Wolcott Phelps being promoted to Brigadier General by President Lincoln and the Senate, as well as a state election (held first Tuesday in September) for which Frederick Holbrook is running for governor. Holbrook mentions again his desire to have his son, William, be attached to Phelps.

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                Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                Date:  1861-11-18

                Resource type:   correspondence

                Topics include organizing Companies or Batteries of Light Artillery for General B. F. Butler's "New England Division". Holbrook again writes of his desire to have his son, William, be attached to Phelps. Also writes of making Lt. Roberts of Rutland a Colonel of the 7th Regiment, of his disappointment of General Baxter not being elected Adjutant General. Col. Washburn got the post.

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                  Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                  Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                  Date:  1862-03-10

                  Resource type:   correspondence

                  Upbeat letter delivered to Gen. Phelps by the writer's son, William C. Holbrook, who apparently turned down an offer to join Phelps's staff. The writer, Gov. Holbrook, lavishes praise on Vermont officers and soldiers (including his son), and sends warm wishes for success to Phelps, sharing his conviction that "the Union Cause must triumph." Holbrook concludes with some reflections on the difficulty of being a wartime governor.

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                    Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                    Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                    Date:  1862-05-02

                    Resource type:   correspondence

                    Topics include the arrival of the 7th and 8th Vermont Regiments at Ship Island, off the coast of Miss., and arrangements with the War Department for wounded troops to be sent home. Holbrook mentions the Battle of Yorktown (April 5-May 4, 1862), esp. the "affair" on April 16 that left ca. 100 Vermont soldiers wounded. Holbrook is in charge of the U.S. Marine Hospital in Burlington, Vt.

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                      Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                      Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                      Date:  1862-07-27

                      Resource type:   correspondence

                      Topics include the President calling for 300,000 additional troops, the wish that the National Government will develop a decisive policy to "proclaim war to the knife," and a description of Frederick Holbrook's son Major Will. Holbrook continues to express his admiration for Phelps and offer him greater forces to command.

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                        Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                        Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                        Date:  1861-08-10

                        Resource type:   correspondence

                        Topics include Frederick Holbrook requesting that his son William be under General John Wolcott Phelps' command in the position of Aid, Secretary or of some type of assistant.

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                          Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                          Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                          Date:  1862-03-06

                          Resource type:   correspondence

                          In his letter to General Phelps, Frederick Holbrook, Governor of Vermont (1861-1863), expresses his admiration for several Union officers from Vermont and his pride in the 8th Vt. Regiment. He informs the general that two infantry regiments and two artillery companies are ready to serve. (This is about one month before the Union attack on New Orleans, launched in part from Ship Island, just off the coast of Mississippi.) Holbrook explains that they would have been sent a month earlier "had Government been ready with funds." He looks forward to seeing Phelps again after the war.

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                            Title:   Frederick Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                            Creator:  Holbrook, Frederick

                            Date:  1861-11-29

                            Resource type:   correspondence

                            Topics include Brig. Gen. John Wolcott Phelps' commanding Butler's New England Division and inviting Frederick Holbrook's son William to be his Aid-de-Camp. Mention of 7th Vermont Regiment (the old 1st reorganized) also being attached to Butler, of Lt. Roberts being given Colonelcy of the 7th, of Major Kimball of the New Jersey 9th for Lt. Col. of the 8th Regiment, reference to Thanksgiving Proclamation.

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                              Title:   Horace Henry Baxter to John Wolcott Phelps

                              Creator:  Baxter, Horace Henry

                              Date:  1861-05-31

                              Resource type:   correspondence

                              Topics include potentially offering Colonel Phelps command of a three year regiment and inquiring how many horses are needed for his Regiment.

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                                Title:   Jonathan Curtis Tyler to John Wolcott Phelps

                                Creator:  Tyler, Jonathan Curtis

                                Date:  1861-06-13

                                Resource type:   correspondence

                                Topics include Jonathan Curtis Tyler, a soon to be Yale graduate, appealing to Col. John Wolcott Phelps for a chance to serve his country in one of the four Vermont regiments that were currently recruiting.

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                                  Title:   Justin S. Morrill to John Wolcott Phelps

                                  Creator:  Morrill, Justin S.

                                  Date:  1861-07-20

                                  Resource type:   correspondence

                                  Vermont Representative Justin S. Morrill writes about anticipated visit of Mr. Tewksbury of Boston, Mass. to military camp in Newport News, Virginia.

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                                    Title:   Justin S. Morrill to John Wolcott Phelps

                                    Creator:  Morrill, Justin S.

                                    Date:  1861-07-31

                                    Resource type:   correspondence

                                    House Representative Justin S. Morrill writes from Washington about Col. John Wolcott Phelps (at Fort Monroe, Va.) receiving an appointment.

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                                      Title:   Leavitt Hunt to John Wolcott Phelps

                                      Creator:  Hunt, Leavitt

                                      Date:  1861-10-05

                                      Resource type:   correspondence

                                      Topics include Mr. Cutts of Brattleboro and Leavitt Hunt asking Gen. John Wolcott Phelps to write a recommendation for a friend who was hoping to receive a Colonelcy position so as to raise a regiment in Vermont. Writer mentions the Army in the Potomac with 80,000 men on the other side of the river. Written from the Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C.

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                                        Title:   Letter to John Wolcott Phelps

                                        Date:  1862-08-10

                                        Resource type:   correspondence

                                        Holbrook waxes eloquent in his call for a "'Great Awakening' at Washington" and a greater awareness of how "our present severe training" will make the nation stronger; but the federal government needs to take the war seriously in order to have victory. Accordingly, Holbrook supports Lincoln's call for 300,000 additional troops, but suggests that a million men in arms would bring success. Intuits correctly that Phelps's "Dark Brigade" (black troops) would not be allowed to bear arms.

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                                          Title:   Salmon Dutton to John Wolcott Phelps

                                          Creator:  Dutton, Salmon

                                          Date:  1861-09-07

                                          Resource type:   correspondence

                                          Topics include Salmon Dutton requesting the position of Brig. Gen. John Wolcott Phelps' "Aides de Camp". Dutton outlines at length his military experience and with whom he has served. Mentions General William F. Smith, Col. Barker, Captain Tuttle, Major General McClellan, General King.

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                                            Title:   Thomas H. Halsey to John Wolcott Phelps

                                            Creator:  Halsey, Thomas H.

                                            Date:  1861-09-05

                                            Resource type:   correspondence

                                            Topics include John Wolcott Phelps' pay as Colonel for the 1st Vermont Volunteers and as Brigadier General once he accepts the position.

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                                              Title:   W. C. Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                                              Creator:  Holbrook, W. C.

                                              Date:  1863-04-18

                                              Resource type:   correspondence

                                              Topics include investigation of the 7th Vermont Regiment's role in the Battle of Baton Rouge, and the suggestion to bring charges against General Butler. The writer, Col. Holbrook, apologizes for not representing the regiment as well as he could have, were he more experienced in the Courts of Inquiry. Holbrook mentions "a good deal of marching and counter marching" in the Baton Rouge area.

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                                                Title:   W. C. Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                                                Creator:  Holbrook, W. C.

                                                Date:  1861-11-25

                                                Resource type:   correspondence

                                                Topics include Lt. W. C. Holbrook of the 4th Vermont Regiment planning to meet Brig. Gen. John Wolcott Phelps at Old Point but must wait for orders from Gen. McClellan first.

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                                                  Title:   W. C. Holbrook to John Wolcott Phelps

                                                  Creator:  Holbrook, W. C.

                                                  Date:  1861-11-25

                                                  Resource type:   correspondence

                                                  Topics include Lt. Adjt. W. C. Holbrook of the 4th Vermont Regiment requesting from Captain Mundee an order to report to Brig. Gen. John Wolcott Phelps at Old Point, Virginia as Aid de Camp.

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