Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 23, 1861 (Sunday): Steamboat John's Bad Joke

1860's Steamboat

                                                                        Case of John S. Emerson

    John S. Emerson was arrested by Lieut. C. H. Sheppard, provost marshal of Alexandria, and committed to the city jail, Washington, by order of General Mansfield June 23, 1861.  Emerson was formerly from Memphis where he was employed as steam-boat captain on the western and Mississippi rivers.  He left there in May and came to Alexandria, passing himself off as Lieutenant Hill, of the Sixth Massachusetts, and claimed to have been wounded while passing through Baltimore with that regiment.  He mingled with the officers and men, talking with the sentinels, and seemed desirous of ascertaining the strength of the Union forces in and about Alexandria.  His conduct was so suspicious that he was finally arrested as a spy and committed as stated above.  He was relaeased on taking the oath of allegiance October 17, 1861, by order of the Secretary of State-From Record Book, State Department, “Arrests for Disloyalty.”

Emerson’s case is a good example of the tension which exists in war time.  In documents attached to his file, his attorney pointed out he was visiting friends and relatives in Alexandria and was in a drunken reverie with them when he made the statements described above.  He subsequently began a letter writing campaign from jail, both to the Secretaries of State and War.  He complained of his health, the conditions of his confinement, a lack of exercise, and noted he “didn’t care which (side) whips” and had only left Memphis because of the ill effect of war on river trade.  He was released on taking the oath of allegiance in October of 1861.

Series II, Vol 2, Page 355.

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