Cabinet Card By Caleb L. Howe
Later Owned By Phillip Wells and Gen. John Wolcott Phelps
John Batchelder Lithograph From John L. Lovell May 1856 Photograph
Cecil Hampden Cutts Howard describes General John W. Phelps' house---
"His study was his earthly paradise. For nearly twenty years after his retirement from the army, he lived in a quaint old house on Asylum Street, in Brattleboro, Vermont. Winding walks in front of the house led some distance under shade trees before the house was reached. The piazza skirted the front and one side of the house, which on the further end was finished by a bay-window. Entering, we find a staircase on the left hand side of the hall, and two doors on the right hand, leading respectively into the drawing-room and the parlor. In every room the long windows opened out on the piazza beyond, and the good taste of the owner had furnished them very simply. Opening out from the parlor was his study, lighted by the wide bay-window, over which clustering vines hung all summer long. Around him on every side were the books, over the collection of which he had spent so many years. Beyond, through the window, Mt. Wantastiquet and the village street were ever present.
In summer and fall it was his delight to treat the children with the pears and apples which grew on his garden trees."
"The Lindens" stood along Asylum street, adjacent to the Central School, with a graceful, winding "S" curved walkway leading from the house, through the linden trees, to a gateway in the rustic fence that had been constructed by Sewell Morse in the 1860's.
Phillip Wells, Esq., bank cashier and one former owner of this house, entered the good graces of John Wolcott Phelps during the Civil War by holding a May Day "Soldiers' Fair"---a childrens' fair, at his house on May 1, 1865. The proceedings were given to wounded soldiers at the United States General Hospital in Brattleboro---
The chilly rain on May Day somewhat dashed the pleasure of the children interested in the Soldiers' Fair, which came off at the house of Philip Wells, Esq. But a very lively party of the little folks and their friends came together to admire and purchase the innumerable pretty things offered for sale. On the following afternoon the weather was sunny, and the fair was completed out of doors, with a large number of children and their friends present. Mr. Wm. C. Bradley, Jr., made a very neat speech to the little folks, who had a capital time in return for their self-imposed labor. The net proceeds, which are to be expended for the comfort of the soldiers of the Hospital, amounted to forty-two dollars. Little Hattie Wells, who originated the project, has excellent cause to be happy at the fine success of her benevolent plan.
Wells extended a warranty deed for his residence to Phelps on July 25, 1867 in consideration of certain shares of company stock. This parcel included shares in an aqueduct company which owned the water reservoir that was let into the ground on the hill behind John Burnham's brass foundry. Pipes leading from this reservoir entered the Greek Revival house a short distance to the north.
North Main Street, Asylum Street
Ferdinand Tyler, Daniel P. Kingsley, John Burnham, Asher Spencer, Larkin G. Mead
When the High School property needed to be enlarged, the house of General Phelps, "The Lindens", was sold to District No. 2 on July 13, 1882 for $6550. Some alterations and repairs were also completed, and the entire transaction was paid for forthwith by a tax of twenty-five cents to the dollar upon the grand list.
"The Lindens" was then outfitted to serve Brattleboro's District No. 2 for an Intermediate school. The school committee put the grounds in order and secured the "comfortable accommodations for 80 or 90 children".
After carefully considering the whole matter the school committee have decided to move the old school building to the south line of the lot and there fit it up for the use of the high and grammar schools till the new building is completed. It will be necessary to cut the wings away, before the removal is made, but one or both of them will be utilized for recitation rooms.
Finally the new building was ready, and during May 1884, "The Lindens" was removed, piece by piece, to the nearby south side of Grove Street. Gen. John W. Phelps had departed for Guilford, where he rented in the widow Mrs. Jennie E. Tyler's house, near Christ's Church and adjoining the District No. 3 school property.
The earlier Vermont Phoenix for March 28, 1884 reported the heated exchanges that occurred during the annual Town Meeting, when it deliberated the proposed removal of the "old Phelps house" from the abode of---
This completed the regular business called for by the warrant.
Under the article "to transact any other business" Dr. Holton brought up a proposition which he said the committee were in favor of, to move the main part of the Phelps house and the rear extension of the High school building back on to a triangular piece of land at the back side of the High school lot and make of them two tenement houses, one for the occupancy of the janitor of the High school buiding.
He said a responsible party had offered to move the buildings for a sum not exceeding $450. The two tenements would rent for at least $200, and as a matter of economy he thought the district should adopt this plan. A motion to leave the matter to the discretion of the committee called out strong opposition.
G. A. Hines offered a resolution instructing the committee to remove both the Phelps house and the old school building from the grounds, and to petition the selectmen to discontinue the street or highway which, it seems, has been laid out from the grove street extension on the west and north sides of the lot down to North Main street.
A warm discussion followed, during which a good many foolish things were said, and the amendment was finally carried, but it in its turn was wiped out by voting down the original motion to leave the whole matter discretionary with the committee, so that the main question was left just where it started.
A motion to adjourn was made and lost. The blood of the crowd was up and they were determined to fight it out on that line if it took all night. David Miller then moved that the committee be instructed to sell all the old buildings on the lot at auction and cause their removal. This motion was finally carried and an adjournment followed.
---With matters left as this meeting left them, it will undoubtedly be necessary to call another meeting in orde to give the committee a legal basis on which to act with regard to the old buildings. Under the articles the vote to sell the old buildings does not hold, there having been no article in the warrant calling for such business. When such a meeting is held, the whole question of putting tenement houses at the rear of the lot and of having a highway around the school grounds will come up.
In the view of many people, who object to the district going into the tenement-house business, there would be no objection to moving back the main part of the Phelps house and making of it a house for the janitor to live in. With this view we agree. There are, indeed, many things to commend such a plan. It would give the janitor a settled residence close by the schools and on property belonging to the district. In it there would be the same element of propriety that there is in a religious society owning a house for its minister to live in.
The interest of the janitor would be identical with those of the teachers, and instead of him and his family coming into constant collision with the children, as would be the case with any other family living close to the schools, he would be at one with them and constantly on the look-out for their welfare.
But that the district should attempt to provide a tenement-house for general rental on its grounds seems to us entirely wrong and inexpedient. Economy of this sort would be bought at too dear a price.
To us, as we think it was to nearly all the voters present Tuesday evening, it was a new revelation that a public street had been laid out from North Main street along the north and west sides of the school grounds to the Grove steet entrance, thus practically giving a public driveway clear around the grounds. The entrance from Grove street was a necessity in order to give easy access for supplies and to provde a short way to the schools from Western avenue, Forest square and Esteyville; but here, we find, it has been almost universally supposed that the street ended. There ought to be room to drive in from Grove street to the rear of the buildings and turn around, but the necessity for a public driveway around to North Main street is not apparent.
When the district bought the Phelps property in order to secure the largest and finest school grounds in the state, it did not contemplate paying $6000 in order to make the town a present of a new highway, but this is what the opening of this new street practically amounts to.
It strikes us that the argument that this street is a necessity in order to accommodate people who carry their children to school, enabling them to drop them at the door, is a very weak one. As against the convenience of the children in a dozen families who can ride to school in bad weather, simply saving them the walk up the path from North Main street or around from the rear entrance from Grove street, how about the other 600 children who can never ride, but, sick or well, must walk, frequently through rain, mud and slush, the whole distance, no matter how great it may be?
In these comments we do not criticise any action of the committee, because these gentlemen have invariably acted in good faith and for the best interests of the village. When the new street was laid there was some show of reason for it in connection with securing the entrance from Grove street; but that is now done away with, and the selectmen would unquestionably discontinue it if petitioned to do so.
Let us have a tenement for the janitor in the rear of the grounds, as proposed by the committee, and, for th rest, let us have the grounds cleared up and made what we paid our money to have them---the largest, most commodious and best-kept public school grounds in New England.
Vermont Phoenix, March 28, 1884.
John C. Howe Photograph 1884
Old High School Section At Far Right
This drawing, printed in the October 28, 1887 Vermont Phoenix, shows the new High School with its students lined up around the building, and also shows Grove Street in the distance---
An oxen team probably pulled "The Lindens" in sections, along behind the high school, to its new site on Grove. This Lucien R. Burleigh lithograph from 1886 shows where the house is located now---
Seen here, the extensive oak grove lies east and south from the General's former residence. "The Lindens" was carried from Asylum Street, along behind the High School. The new house of Mrs. Delia Wilder has been built, and to her north is the house built by Levi A. Dowley, the Hereford cattle importer.
Lucien R. Burleigh 1886 Lithograph
Henry Burnham bought the front part of the old high school from David Miller, added it to the rear "L" that he already owned, and set the two together on the Burnham lot on Grove Street for use as a tenement building. This is now 35 Grove Street---
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for 1885 shows how the old high school parts were set along Grove Street as privately owned dwellings and tenements---
An early resident in the former Phelps house, now on Grove Street, was the telegraph operator James A. Bardwell and his wife Hattie Leavitt. The David L. Miller map in 1895 shows their house with an outline virtually identical to the old Daniel P. Kingsley design from Asylum Street, as it appears on the 1852 Presdee & Edwards map of Brattleboro.
High School In 1905
New High School In 1907
Old Wooden Central School Buildings At Far Left
Two months after the auction, workmen laid a new concrete sidewalk in along Grove Street. This photograph may show this work in progress, with five men in the crew in motion and two standing still.
The building in the center is first Unitarian Church, built in 1835, that Henry Burnham purchased for two hundred dollars at a private sale, in April, 1874, and moved back to fit it up for a work shop. Another house that stood near the Unitarian Church was moved during four days in May, 1874 on rollers down Main Street, across the bridge, and up the hill. The house at the far right was built by Uriel Sikes for a temperance tavern.
Gen. John Wolcott Phelp's house "The Lindens" is still standing at the present address 40 Grove Street---painted yellow now, with dark green trim, two houses up the hill from the High-Grove parking lot, atop a small bank.
Several features are still recognizable from Daniel P. Kingsley's design---the Catherine's Wheel window centered in the Greek Revival pediment, now enlarged for a Palladian-style window---the small, back chimney, the front porch and front door transom, the Italianate double brackets under the eaves---
Gen. John Wolcott Phelps House
My Father's Sepulchre.
By a Cadet.
"Here lies the body of Capt. Joseph Williams,
formerly an eminent merchant in the
Town of Norwich in the State of Connecticut.
He departed this life
the 19th day of January, 1776,
in the fifty-third year of his age.
He was remarkable for his piety, and a
professor of Jesus Christ."
The above is an epitaph upon the tomb-stone of one of my great Grandfathers. The stone itself is a warped slab of schist. Art has done but a very little for it;--however, for the time and place in which it was erected, I suppose it was considered a very costly monument. He was the father of my grand-mother, on my father's side. If future generations of my relations should wish to visit it, they will find it upon a by-way leading from the southwest into the main road between Newfane and the east village of Brattleboro, and about three miles from the latter place. It is upon a hill, and catches the last gleams of every cloudless sun. It is in a retired, though not a solitary place; now and then the voice of some one may be heard in the distance. No sighing water-fall is there; but the unmolested birds render it pleasant by their music. No grove or tree is there to moan in the passing breeze; but a long grass grows up and protects the chirping grasshopper, which ever and anon breaks forth when the music of the birds is hushed, to cheer the monotony of a warm summer's day.
Little did I think, a few years ago, that I should ever be led to the tomb of one of my kindred forefathers. What associations then were connected with it! Methought, while transcribing his epitaph upon my handkerchief, that I was transported back to former times, when the region in which he sleeps, was nothing but an unbroken wilderness. I could see him, giant-like, roaming in its wilds, and facing the dangers of wild beasts and savages. I could see him plodding his uncertain way, whilst the trees were groaning under the violence of the hurricane, and caverns were yawning to receive him into their dark and raging waters. I could see his log hut rising alone in the wild, when visitors there were none save the denizens of the forest. The gnarled oak, the lofty pine and hemlock, and the rugged beech and maple, fell before his stalwart arm. A few fellow beings in time followed his example; neighbors, tho' distant, settled around him. In the winter of his age, he had scarcely broached the fruits of his long and arduous toil, when he died. A procession of friends wound round those high hills that were then about me, and deposited where I sat, his mortal remains. Little did he dream that sixty years would create the change it has; or even that a great grand-child of his should visit his grave and gaze upon it with mingled feelings of reverence and affection. But such has been the case; and while I live, the stone alone shall not be the memento of his worth.
West Point, Aug. 30, 1834.
Vermont Phoenix, September 11, 1835.
Standing in the Meeting House Hill cemetery at age twenty, Cadet John Wolcott Phelps perhaps thought about Captain Williams' five sons serving in the Revolutionary War---John, Frederick, Joseph, Benjamin, Isaac.
Cadet Phelps did not record his grandfather's inscription at all accurately. Somewhere between West Point and the Defense of New Orleans, Gen. John Wolcott Phelps learned the worth of accurate reporting.
Here lies the Body of
Captain Joseph Williams
formerly an Eminent Mer
chant in the Town of Nor
wich in the State of Connecticut
he Departed this Life the
19th Day of January 1776
in the 53d Year of
He was remarkable for his Piety
and a professor of Jesus Christ
The two-line epitaph is cut in italics. The slate stone is ornamented with a traditional soul face, an encircling vine, and checkerboard denticulated borders. The footstone is inscribed with a three-bladed pinwheel, symbolic of continual movement, or eternal life, and the inscription is quite detailed---
1776 AEtat 53
The Seminole War
Miss Helen M. Phelps
No. 401 Hudson St
One year after graduating from West Point, Lieutenant Phelps writes this letter to his sister, Helen M. Phelps of New York. From Fort Heileman, a supply depot for the U.S. Army during the Seminole War, Phelps tries to convince his sister to take more recreation in New York---
Fort Heileman, August 15, 1837.
"One of the greatest pleasures of life is variety, and altho' the Jewish institutions were not framed expressly for the production of this, yet they furnish it . . .The austerity with which the Jews observed the Sabbath remaining almost motionless throughout the day & must have undoubtedly proved irksome, but at the same time it imparted a zest for entering on the occupations of the week."
Informing Miss Phelps that he has preserved some items from a Seminole woman's burial site, the young officer offers his observations of Seminole burial practices. "She was deposited in a crib made after the fashion of a log house, and covered with a roof of bark. From the things that were found with her, it is presumed that she must have been a lady of quality."
He then describes other items buried with her.
"Under her head was a little bag containing needles and thread, and the flint and steel . . .That's where she fits it out for her journey thro' the dismal hammocks of death to the pleasures of the Elysian hunting grounds . . .What a vague and unsophisticated religion is this! . . . Reason, howmuchsoever she may be exercised by the red man, and especially the Seminole, and ordinary concerns, certainly never used her pruning hook here. Whenever the Seminole witnesses of the ills to which humanity is heir, such as sickness, natural death, lunacy, deformity, he is lost in mystery -- there are dispensations of the Great Spirit which he does not comprehend."
Concerning the Seminole War, Phelps writes that
"The news that we are continually hearing induced us to believe that there will be no more fighting. The Seminoles have thus far acted to consistently with international law to make us believe otherwise than that they will remain true to their pledges faith, and if they do, the Miccosukee's, altho' the largest party, will see the rashness of prolonging the war . . .There are now a hundred Indians at Fort King and several chiefs at Tampa . . .Gen. [Thomas] Jesup is now here. The Secretary of War has granted him a thousand northern Indians -- 3 Creeks cut their throats at Tampa, out of nostalgia. The Indians granted are Shawnees, Sacs and Foxes, Kikapoos and Delewares."
April 3d 1838
Lieutenant Phelps drew many plants native to Florida while he was stationed there. Here is the commonly-called "bird pawpaw" at the upper left, which the young officer notices growing especially on the outskirts of old plantations---as he considers, like the wild turnips that he remembers growing on the outskirts of gardens at the north.
This is an ink drawing, from an 1838 diary, representing the Mountain Cherokee.
The Mexican War
John W. Phelps' Mexican War Journals were written between June 11, 1846 and September 5, 1848. After the war, John Phelps, transcribed his original Mexican War diaries into these seven journals. There are three leather-bound, and four hardbound journals.
On the cover of one leather-bound journal is written, "Descriptive Book, Company 'A' 4th Artillery." On the first page in the first journal, Phelps has written, "Jottings in Mexico in 1846-7-8 By an Officer. I too, will keep a log - why not?"
The journals are organized into the following seven stages---
Stage I From Old-Point-Comfort to Point-Isabel
Stage II From Point-Isabel to Monterey
Stage III From Monterey to Saltillo and thence back to Vera-Cruz
Stage IV From Vera-Cruz to Puebla
Stage V From Puebla to Mexico [City]
Stage VI From Mexico to Toluca
Stage VII From Toluca back to Old Point
The narration begins on June 11, 1846 as Phelps and "a company of Artillery and five ordnance men, in all one hundred and one" sail from Old Point Comfort, Virginia, to Port Isabel, Texas.
John W. Phelps describes the U. S. military buildup along the southern Texas coast which included "straggling volunteers with a sprinkling of regulars, horses, provisions going to the camps, etc. etc., a dozen half-naked Mexicans were employed in lading bacon."
Phelps describes Aztec history, Catholic traditions and practices, Mexican elections, cock fights, funerals, hospitals, and leper colonies---"The men were out, sunning themselves; features distorted, livid color, eyebrows gone, fingers and toes shriveled, drawn up and decaying by piece meal". Headings include "The Mexican woman" and "The eloquence of a drunken Mexican."
At one point he gives a detailed description of when the matador "took a sword in one hand and a red cloth in the other. . .At length he plunged the sword deep into a sensitive point; it escaped from his hand, the bull tossing his head to one side to strike at it. . .Three bulls were bated in this way, with nearly the same incidents - an unmitigatedly barbarous spectacle."
Phelps describes the officers William Worth and William Bliss, and evenings spent with Gen. Zachary Taylor and Gen. Winfield Scott. And Jefferson Davis---"Col. Davis' Mississippi regiment have been trying their governments rifles to see how they will work".
But Phelps writes that nothing had struck him "more forcibly than the military spirit displayed by our volunteers. Where there is one worthless man among them there are at least three who, at home, are man of character and property. They play the part of soldiers well."
Phelps writes of regiments of volunteers from numerous U. S. states, including Louisiana, Massachusetts, Indiana, New York, and Tennessee. He recounts many stories about Texas volunteers, including the regiment under the command of James Henderson.
Phelps also observes Colonel John Coffee Hays' Texas Rangers in battle, and gives complete descriptions of other battles from his viewpoint as an artillery officer. Concerning the Battle of Monterey---"The ground was pretty well sprinkled with their dead. . .We had now an opportunity to look about us, and what a sight was there! And there lay Monterey, surrounded by its thousand fertile fields thro' which the San Juan littered along".
On September 16, 1847, as the war neared its end, the U. S. artillery officer writes in his journal from the "'Halls of Montezumas' / National palace of Mexico," after the decisive Battle of Chapultepec.
In one violent incident, an American sutler---
offered his hand to a Mexican. The Mexican, right in the presence of our troops, struck at him like a flash with his dagger, severed a jugular, and the stalwart baker bled to death. An Infantry soldier immediately pinned the Mexican to a wall with his bayonet; and there the Mexican writhed until the bayonet was broken off.
Following Santa Anna's surrender, Phelps observes on April 9, 1848, that the Mexican general was "on his way towards Vera-Cruz to embark for Jamaica. Our officers at Jalapa furnished him with an escort and shewed him other attentions with which, the papers say, he appeared to be highly pleased."
Then finally on May 27, 1848, almost two years after the war began, Phelps happily records that "The treaty has been ratified by the Senate by a vote of thirty three against four; and we have orders to commence the march homeward."
Phelps journeyed home, sailing around Florida and traveling the last leg of his journey aboard a train. He closes his journals in a pensive mood on September 26, 1848, writing that "the strifes of war are forgotten, as if all the events here recorded were but the incidents of a morning dream. The End."
Accompanying these journals is a four-page letter to Phelps from his younger brother, Charles E. Phelps, dated July 1, 1859, from Baltimore with details of the Second Italian War of Independence.
Mexican War Journals
[November 12, 1846]
The following letter is from a young officer of the U. S. artillery, addressed to his father at Ellicott's Mills:
Monterey, Mexico, Sept. 28, 1846.
General Taylor, with his army of about six thousand men, sat down before this town on the 20th inst. On the 21st the attack commenced, and continued for three days. On the 24th the enemy, amounting, beyond a doubt, to seven thousand men, capitulated---to march out with their arms, colors flying, drums beating and six pieces of artillery.---Our loss, in killed and wounded, will probably amount to five hundred, including many very valuable officers. The enemy were very strongly entrenched; the whole town was a fortress; and, perhaps, the annals of history cannot furnish another instance of a less number of men, attacking a greater in their fortifications and driving them out. What their loss is it is impossible to ascertain; although it is probably less than ours. I saw the last division of them march out of town to-day. The soldiers all bore evident marks of Aztec ancestry, while among the whiter skinned officers there was said to be recognized several deserters from our army.
I no longer wonder at the success of Cortez; he had to deal with a cowardly people. In all their bearing towards us they evidently regard us as we really are, a highly superior race. They had rendered this town exceedingly strong against an attack in front; but at the same time they left the back door open, and Gen. Worth with his division walked in and drove them out. With what kind of disposition they met us here, the strength of their works, the speed with which they have been completed, the numbers of their troops and cannon, and the names even given to their forts, all go to show.
The names of three of their forts are: Fort Federation, Fort Liberty and Fort Independence.---They are all gone; not the forts only, but I fear the things also from which they were named. It is time for Mexico to resort to some desperate remedy, or else cut her republican throat. I rejoice, however, at the result of this contest. One day's more fighting would have humbled Mexico to the dust, and elevated us beyond the endurance of the gods. As it is, our great loss and the terms granted to the Mexican army, will mitigate the asperities of our rampant petulance and pride, and at the same time leave the Mexicans in the attitude of an independent, unconquered people. It will give them a favorable opportunity to accept of our offers of peace, and I sincerely hope that they will embrace it.
There is no glory to be obtained in a war with them---with cowards; and for my own part, I have become too philosophical to be covetous of military glory in any shape. It is barbarous and unworthy of the true dignity of man. I say this much here, because, in the first place,it is my real heart-rending sentiments, and, in the second place, I feel that the part which I have had in this affair would warrant me in giving a free expression to them. I was with the storming party that carried the fort height, San Jeronimo Hill, in the rear of the town---a kind of forlorn hope, it was thought, but which turned out to be just nothing at all. Our division, in truth, has been fired at a great deal, both by infantry and artillery, but fifty will probably cover all our loss, even including those of our own men, who, in the excitement of the fight, ridiculously shot each other. I beg you to understand that my own company was guilty of no such folly as this.
Fuerte de la Independencis, the citadel, is a bastion work intended for 34 guns and requiring a garrison of at least 1500 men. Its walls are very thick and are surrounded by a deep ditch.--- This work has probably been commenced and completed since the battles of the Rio Grande.--- It surrounds a half finished cathedral which, for this quarter of the world, is a wonder. It is nearly a hundred paces long and half as many wide. Its wallsare seven or eight feet thick and exceedingly well constructed. Towering up into the clouds above and near it is a peak called Mitre mountain---from its summit being exactly of the shape of that head dress. Monterey is on the San Juan, on a large plain of fertile fields, nearly surrounded by mountains. Its gardens are filled always with a luxuriant growth of trees, shrubs, oranges, pomgranates, flowers, etc. Several gentlemen have beautiful houses and grounds here. Arista's house is used as a hospital for our wounded. Monterey is the capital of New Leon---it contains probably 8,000 or 10,000 inhabitants.
J. W. Phelps.
Fort Brown, Texas Border
Fort Brown, Point Isabel, Texas
Original Earthworks In Ruins
The Vermont Phoenix for Friday, February 6, 1885 ran the obituary for John Wolcott Phelps, and provided this description of his days with the Texas frontier border guard---
For eight years afterward he was away from civilization and had the hardest kind of border experiences. His first detail was at Fort Brown, Texas, at a time when border ruffianism was at its height. Military duty there consisted of unremitting vigiliance and frequent raids upon schemers and cutthroats, whose ambition looked only to the overtrhrow of government authority that they might hold the newly acquired country under a rule of terror.
To this end a filibustering expedition was organized and acquired strong headway. Capt. Phelps distinguished himself by moving against it with his little force and overthrowing it. In 1855 he marched from Fort Brown to San Antonio, with orders to suppress lawlessness along the route and at San Antonio. This march was successful, and for a few months afterward he was given a respite as a member of the Artillery Board at Fortress Monroe.
In 1857, however, he went again on frontier duty at Fort Leavenworth, and accompanied the Utah expedition of 1857, under Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson, as chief of artillery; but becoming dissatisfied with the course pursued by Buchanan's administration in its conduct of affairs in that territory, he resigned Nov. 2, 1859, after an active military service of nearly 23 years.
From a later diary written in Brattleboro---
In the spring of 1852, I was obliged to leave Brownsville, Texas, because the government would not sustain me in my efforts to execute their orders for the suppression of filibustering attacks from our territory upon Mexico. It left me in the lurch among savages, whose cunning was exhausted in quiet, yet constant efforts to destroy the government under which they lived. I went then to Europe, simply because I was not prepared to resign, having devoted my whole life singly to the service, and remained abroad one year.
The Utah War
John W. Phelps' two diaries kept during the Utah War, contain entries dated between June 18, 1858 and October 7, 1858. They narrate his service, beginning with the journey along the Mormon Trail and ending with his encampment outside Salt Lake City at Camp Floyd.
In late 1857, Phelps was sent with a large U. S. Army detachment of over two thousand soldiers to the Utah Territory by President Buchanan to control unrest among the Mormon population. The military force wintered at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. After their journey was renewed, a nonviolent resolution was achieved and the soldiers peacefully entered Salt Lake City in June 1858.
The first diary is bound in soft paper covers and begins on the sunny morning of June 18, 1858 at a "Camp on Bear River" along the Mormon Trail in northern Utah Territory. It ends less than a month later on July 9 at a camp outside of Salt Lake City. Phelps fills half of the lined pages of this diary with observations from the journey, including those of Bear River, Echo Canyon, snowcaps of the Uinta Mountains, the Weber River, and Mormon fortifications.
He also records encounters with various Mormons, such as one on June 24 when the detachment "met several Mormon families to-day going to the States. I asked them why they did not stay with their property in Salt Lake Valley, the government would protect them if they wished it. They said that they had had enough of Salt Lake, and that they could not come out of it now, if it were not for our presence."
The next day, he registered the good news that a peaceful resolution between the U. S. government and the Mormon leadership had been attained. "A proclamation from the Governor reaches us here, and is read to the troops, recapitulating the fact that through the pardon of James Buchanan president of the United States, and the acceptance of its conditions by the Mormons, peace exists in the Territory of Utah: and while he promises to maintain the laws, both Federal and territorial . . . he advises all who have left or are about to leave their homes to return to them."
Later, Phelps recorded his views of Mormonism. "Mormonism is, in fact, the growth of a waste region of the United States, and all attempts by Brigham or others to transplant it to other soils will prove abortive. Many of the Mormons, it is said, have personal defects, such as lameness . . . humpbacks etc - to think of such men reveling in women! Why should not a system be popular that can thus compensate for the blemishes of nature?"
The journey along the Mormon Trail was slow and tedious. Phelps writes, "As each command is followed by its own train, and as several of the trains contain upwards of one hundred wagons, requiring nearly an hour to pass any given point, our progress is often interrupted by stoppages and rendered slow and tedious. The aggregate of our force is 2380 men."
On June 26, Phelps and the other soldiers entered Salt Lake City. "On entering the streets we noticed that they were very wide, at least _____ feet; bordered on each side with small runs of water which were brought down from the streams in the mountains. . .The house generally built of adobes, are situated a little back of the ditches. . .The streets were nearly desolate; some few men were seen here and there, but not one single woman made her appearance. Persons could be occasionally seen peering stealthily from the windows, but almost all of the inhabitants have gone to Provost. . .Our route led by Brigham's house which is a large white edifice decorated with a beehive on its top and the figure of a lion on its front facing the street. A little below this house and on the same side of the street we noticed the American flag flying. It was at the residence of our governor who occupies the house of Elder Staines, a saint rejoicing in three wives." They camped a mile west of the city.
The second diary is bound in soft leather covers and begins on July 14, 1858 at Camp Floyd, Cedar Valley. In this diary, which ends on October 7, 1858, Phelps records further observations about the Mormons. "These Mormons are estimated to be about one half from Great Britain chiefly from England and Wales; one sixth from Denmark, a few from other countries, and the rest Americans from the United States. There are not many Germans among them. One of them is married to his one half-sister; and it is the Bishop's business to see that the girls under his jurisdiction are married off as soon as they are twelve years old. There are not five unmarried females in Salt Lake City, it is said, over the age of sixteen. The United States' laws have not gone in operation yet inasmuch as the Chief Justice only of the Judiciary of the Territory is present; the other judges not having yet arrived." On July 31 he notes, "Brigham Young has run away from his harum, it is said, but it is not known where he has gone."
Both diaries include diagrams of the army's camping arrangements, detailed charts of daily weather conditions, and various other drawings. John Phelps, who had a scientific bent, was thorough when making observations of his environment, often recording the temperature thrice a day, the type of clouds, the wind direction, meteor sightings, and star positions. Every page of both diaries is full of Phelps' legible writing and is worthy of much more careful attention. It is important to note that Phelps' writing style is coarser in these two diaries than in his earlier Mexican War journals, which he later polished and rewrote in seven bound volumes. The entries in these two journals are similar to seven pages from his Civil War journals. There, and in the Mexican War journals, Phelps writes less about scientific matters and more about his observations of events and people.
John Wolcott Phelps (1813-1885) was born and died in Guilford, Vermont. In the seventy-two years between those events, he not only witnessed change, he also worked and sacrificed to create it. Following his 1836 graduation from the U. S. Military Academy, Lieutenant Phelps was given command of an artillery regiment and ordered to Florida Territory to take part in the Seminole War. He later served throughout the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. In the late 1850s, Phelps was a member of the Utah Expedition. That expedition, the largest U.S. military exercise between the Mexican and Civil Wars, was sent to Utah to suppress a possible revolt from the state's large Mormon population.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phelps, an abolitionist, was quickly promoted to brigadier general and, while serving under General Benjamin Butler in early 1862, was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans and its environs. He was soon stationed seven miles outside the Southern city at Camp Parapet, which quickly became a refuge for fugitive slaves. After large numbers of slaves had arrived, Phelps organized the men into three regiments, drilled them, and asked General Butler to supply them with three thousand muskets, two hundred twenty-five swords. Butler refused and ordered Phelps to enlist the fugitives in manual work, but Phelps refused and remained adamant in pressing the U. S. military into using former slaves as soldiers, not as unskilled labor. After Butler failed to act, Phelps resigned in disgust on August 21, 1862, the same day the Confederate government declared him an outlaw for his actions.
But thanks to Phelps' efforts and the course of the war, changes came quickly. Over the remaining months of 1862, President Lincoln's thinking---propelled forward by men like Phelps---changed so much that in his January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he not only freed Southern slaves, but he also made known intentions to enlist those freedmen in the U.S. military. Two years later in the spring of 1865, one hundred seventy-nine thousand black men were serving in the U. S. military.
Letter To General J. W. de Peyster
Commanding Officer's Quarters
Camp Floyd, Utah Territory, January 1859
Tall Man With Beard, Center, Arm Resting On Porch Railing
Possibly Captain John W. Phelps
Camp Floyd, U. T., July 30, 1859.
My Very Dear General:---Salutation, health and peace! Day awakes from the slumbers of the night; puts forth her rosy fingers sparkling with the morning star like the Turkish maiden with diamond ring; brushes away the crimson cloud curtains from the orient, and looks out in beauty upon the quiet world. . . . .The sun is now up, throwing a flood of light over the barren land; and the rough scabrous mountain peaks respond with a lorn desolate smile, as if an angel had alighted there, and was looking down upon us in serious yet benevolent contemplation.
The streaks of cloud that deck the sky here and there, are moving onward with their silent, noiseless flow,---onward ever from the south-west, like a mighty stream bearing the vapors of the Pacific to our eastern lands.
Having shed down their rain to fertilize your fields---having emptied their buckets quite, the dry stream moves onward out upon the Atlantic where it again becomes filled with water, which it pours out upon the lands of the old world. It returns as a trade wind by the way of the tropics, is deflected to the north and then to the north-east, and thus keeps up its circulation like an immense irrigating wheel, alternately filling its buckets in the oceans, and emptying them upon the land---a machinery that never falters, and never needs repair,---as eternal as the globe itself.
Out of my door are seen the Oquirrh mountains, lifting their majestic outlines against the sky, like a beautiful picture of the earth delineated upon the heavens. Amidst the dark green vegetation that encircles their summit like a garland, is still perceived one small spot of snow. . . . . .One of the most frail and delicate flowers that I ever saw, is so frail that it seeks protection from the grease-wood, a small shrub from amidst which it grows, and whose branches are so thorny that nothing can touch them without being stung. It is one of the funniest sights that I ever witnessed to see such a beautiful flower, conscious of its attractions and its frailty, seeking shelter and safety from such an ill-natured shrub as the grease-wood. This shrub receives its name from the fact that when thrown upon the fire, it flashes up like grease; but it is not so much from any greasy quality, I think, as from an irascible temper, acquired from its long struggle to maintain a precarious foot-hold in the desert, and which exhibits itself in thorn and flames.
The absorbing topic of interest with us at present is the mule sale. Persons go to the auction as the chief place of amusement. From this you can judge to what a low pass we have been brought.
With sentiments of the highest esteem and affectionate regard, I am very truly your humble and obedient servant,
J. W. Phelps.
Sketch Of Camp Floyd
March 3, 1860
Return To Brattleboro, Vermont
Various Items.---Capt. J. W. Phelps, late of the U. S. Army, has purchased a lot of about five acres of land of W. H. Alexander, beautifully situated near the southern limits, and overlooking a large share of the village, on which he will probably erect a dwelling-house. We welcome this gallant officer again among us after an absence of more than a quarter of a century in the public service.Vermont Phoenix, March 31, 1860.
Col. John W. Phelps Reports The Burning Of Hampton, Virginia
Newport News, Va., August 11, 1861.
Sir: Scouts from this post represent the enemy as having retired. They came to New Market Bridge on Wednesday, and left the next day. They -- the enemy -- talked of having 9,000 men. They were recalled by dispatches from Richmond. They had twenty pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes. Their wagons numbered sixty. Such is the information which our scouts gained from the people living on the ground where the enemy encamped. Their numbers are probably overrated; but with regard to their artillery, and its being manned in part by negroes, I think the report is probably correct. If they did have 9,000 men, and have thus withdrawn, without effecting any other object than the burning of Hamilton, their retiring may be looked upon as nearly allied to a defeat; for the barbarous fierceness of spirit which they have exhibited in the destruction of Hampton, one of the oldest towns of Virginia, and which connects her history with a glorious past, cannot fail to injure their cause. It is an act which must inevitably meet with disapproval in all parts of the country, unless, indeed, the sentiments of liberality and generosity which are naturally inculcated by our free institutions have become wholly extinguished.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. Phelps,
Lieut. Charles C. Churchill,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Fort Monroe, Va.
The Fogs Of The Connecticut River.
Fog is a cloud which forms near the surface of the earth. The reason of its formation at various times and localities is not fully understood, yet enough is known to lead one to infer that the electrical condition of the air has more or less to do with it. Indeed, very large sparks of electricity have been drawn from fog through the means of insulated wire.
But we propose, in the present paper, to limit our remarks to the fogs which at certain seasons of the year occur along the Connecticut River, and we shall confine our observations to such traits of their character as may be ascertained by the eye aided only by the thermometer. For this purpose, we give the following table of some of the fogs that were noticed in the fall of the year 1864.
On the 21st of September the thermometer in the air stood at 49 degrees, and in the river at 63 degrees. The apparent condition of the atmosphere and the aspect of the sky were the same as the day preceding, with this difference, that on the 20th there was a gentle flow of the air from down the river, while on the 21st the flow of the air was from the westward and yet there was no fog. But on the night intervening between the two days however, there was a display of the Northern Lights.
On the 17th of September, the fog was very heavy. It extended back some distance from the river, and was so dense that the roads were moistened with it, and the roofs of houses became dripping wet. And so on the following day, the 18th of September, a dense fog extended back a mile and a half from the river. The inside of the window panes, on the mornings of both of these days, was thickly covered with beads of moisture, the warm vapors of the room becoming condensed upon the cold glass in the same manner that the vapors of the outside air became condensed by a considerable fall of temperature. On the night of the 16th, there seemed to be every sign of a frost; and in fact garden plants and the tobacco crop would probably have been nipped, if it had not been for the intervention of the fog: for by the condensation of the moisture into fog, latent caloric is given out, which warms up the air and prevents a frost. And this is a beautiful provision of nature by which a source of danger is converted into one of safety. In the vallies and low lands, where the night air is still and hence favorable to the congelation of water, the condition of the air is less favorable to the formation of fogs, while on the hill sides, where the breezes freely play, frost cannot take so readily, and vapors are diffused instead of being condensed, so that fogs are not readily formed.
That the water of the Connecticut River, and the fogs which arise from it, warm up the land immediately along its course, beyond what it would be warmed without such a cause, will appear pretty evident by an inspection of the table.---From the 11th of September when the temperature of the air was nearly that of summer heat, until the 16th of December when the earth was covered by nearly a foot's depth of snow, and the river was bordered with ice, the range of the thermometer was on an average more than ten degrees higher when immersed in the river than when exposed to the air. And this view of the effect of the river in warming up the land in its vicinity, in Vermont, would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the chestnut tree, which requires a moderate climate, does not extend far inland from its banks.
Another fact, we may mention in passing, is discovered by an inspection of the table. From the 11th to the 17th of September, it will be observed, there was a sudden change of temperature of eleven degrees. This change takes place pretty regularly throughout the United States, every year near the middle of the month of September, or about the period of the autumnal equinox; and as it is unexpected and unprovided for, it usually occasions a good deal of sickness. A sudden change from a long spell of summer heat to a temperature near the freezing pint cannot be otherwise than deleterious to the health, and can be safely met only by having warm clothing ready to be put on the moment that it begins to take place.
As a general rule, the fogs over the Connecticut River are produced in the following way. During the night, when they are formed, the air in the deep valley is still moist and warm, and a cool dry breeze from the westward---from the mountains---flows over it. The moment that this cold air strikes the warm air over the river, the moisture of warmer air becomes condensed and forms a fog. But as the cool air is also dry, the moment that the vapor has become condensed by its coolness that same moment it begins to be absorbed by its dryness, so that the fog while forming from below, is at the same time being absorbed into invisible vapor above. Thus, under the two opposite actions of consensation and absorption, the fog remains stationary, and fills the whole valley of the river with a compact, distinctly outlined mass, winding along among the hills like an immense river itself. From the hill tops one looks down upon it, shining white with the morning sun, and stretching off towards the distant sea. As the sun rises higher, and the air becomes warmer and hence more capable of absorbing and containing moisture, the fog begins to be diminished, until finally it suddenly vanishes from view.
J. W. P.
Vermont Record, February 21, 1865.
Diary By John W. Phelps
July 1, 1860 -- April 2, 1865
In this Diary on January 23, 1862---
During the fog sounds
were heard more distinctly than
usual, showing that the currents
On June 19, 1864---
Many farmers are raising tobacco, the stoppage of the supply from the south rendering it profitable - But owing to the present dryness, they are disappointed in not being able to set out their plants without great additional labor.
On July 17, 1864---
A number of trees were prostrated by the storm in the vicinity of Algiers. An old chesnut tree which I knew when a boy, and which has always yielded chesnuts, I believe, every year, situated on a ledge of rock directly west of the house, was prostrated. With its huge mass of roots turned up it looked a sad view to me, as if boding no good. In the midst of its bloom it has stretched down the hill towards the S. E., a wreck amidst many memories of the past that hover around it, never to be awakened by its old branches, by its sunny, benevolent fruit again.
Diary Sketch Following February 27, 1861 Aurora Borealis
This paper does not describe the military significance of early morning fog in delaying the onset of battles, but Gen. Phelps was clearly aware of the importance for learning more about this phenomenon. During the Civil War, antagonists could not resort to radar.
The Diary of John Wolcott Phelps is a trove of information concerning meteors, Zodiacal Lights, auroras, storms, flood, tornado, bobolink, whippoorwill, bluebird, and come May, the inscrutable formations of tadpoles. The man's sense for the connectedness of things is everywhere, overwhelmingly in evidence.
This entry shows his efforts to determine the aurora borealis altitude---
Calculations To Determine The Altitude Of The Northern Lights Above The Horizon
An Heroic Prison Martyr.
Editors of the Vermont Record:---
As the experiences of a young Vermont soldier, for the first time absent from home, and in his first campaign, must prove interesting to all who trace the relation between citizen soldiers and the republic which these defend, I send you another extract from one of the letters of the late Sardis Birchard. No better representative of the character of our American youth, as moulded by our institutions and traditions, could any where be found in the rank and file of our armies. With the cheerful consent of his father, he entered the service as a solemn, patriotic duty, with a mind made up to meet all the usual casualties of war, and he performed his duties with manly fidelities and devotions. The fate that befell him---the martyrdom of the prison-pen, was something which he had never anticipated; nor probably was the country generally prepared, until the war developed the fact, to conceive that such a fate, in an enlightened age and among a christian people, was possible.
J. W. P.
Vermont Record, January 14, 1865.
John W. Phelps
John Wolcott Phelps (November 13, 1813 -- February 2, 1885) was born in Guilford Centre, Vermont, the son of Hon. John Phelps and Lucy Lovell, daughter of Major Oliver Lovell and Hannah Smith, of Rockingham.
John Phelps and Lucy were married on November 17, 1803 in Guilford, Vermont, and their children were, Helen Maria, Stella, Victor, John Wolcott, Eunice, Lucy, Elizabeth Huntington, Regina Ann, and Caroline.
John Wolcott Phelps grew up in a house that stood by the side of the old road to Brattleboro. Young John Phelps was educated in the district schools, and attended the private school of Edward Sanborn in Brattleboro. His mother died on November 9, 1830, when he was seventeen years old
Cadet John W. Phelps was appointed to the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1832 and graduated on July 1, 1836 with the brevet rank of Second Lieutenant, and assigned to the 4th U. S. Artillery. Phelps was promoted Second Lieutenant on July 28, 1836. He fought in the Creek and Seminole War in 1838, and participated in the Trail of Tears, his quarters being with the Cherokee nation.
When the Canadian border disturbances began, now First Lieutenant John W. Phelps since July 7, 1838 was sent to the Detroit area for three years, stationed at Fort Mackinac, Fort Brady, and Fort Buffalo. With the first expedition sent to Mexico, as an artillery officer Phelps was at the battle of Monterey and was before Vera Cruz in early 1847, then at Cerro Gordo, Contreras, and Molino del Rey, and Mexico City.
Promoted to Captain on March 31, 1850 after previously declining brevet Captain, Phelps spent 1857-1859 with the Mormon Expedition, conducted by General Albert Sidney Johnson. Phelps wrote about the Mormon faith in his diaries---and, even with making allowances for his times being the Golden Age of United States political invective---his words evidence some disdain for the sect.
Where else than in America could such a flat and puerile invention become enshrined as an established belief. From what trunk except one of the most vigeorous of free institutions could such a fungus of absolutism arise?
Throughout his campaigning during the Civil War, Gen. John W. Phelps refused to tolerate destructive and parasitic sutlers---agents of New York banks and the Bank of England, the prototypes of the later despised "carpetbaggers"---who battened upon his troops. John W. Phelps successfully forced the more criminally-minded merchants away from his troops.
Gen. Phelps was stationed at Camp Parapet in Carrollton, seven miles from New Orleans, when great numbers of 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---
As indicating the character of the men and of the bitterness with whcih he was hated by the rebels of that section, the story is told that General Butler, when upon one occasion remonstrated with for carelessness in exposing his person to the risk of assassination while going about upon his various duties as commander of the department, dryly remarked that the rebels would never assassinate him while Phelps stood next in command!
With his men Gen. Phelps was always popular and highly esteemed, since he was ever regardful of their health and comfort, and would often pause in his round of duties to pass a pleasant word with one of his subordinates or to cheer the spirits of a homesick "boy in blue."
Unwilling to employ the Africans as mere laborers, or to be a slave-driver, General Phelps offered his resignation on August 21, 1862. It was eventually accepted on September 8, 1862.
After the Civil War, General John W. Phelps resided at "The Lindens"---the fine house that was built by the stagecoachman Daniel P. Kingsley, and later owned by Phillip Wells. This house stood on the west side of Asylum Street, amid a grove of great linden trees.
General Phelps compiled the Guilford, Vermont history for Abby Maria Hemenway, published articles upon diverse themes, wrote "Sybilline Leaves", a volume of verse, served as Vice President of the Vermont Historical Society 1863-1885, and as President of the Vermont Teachers Association.
John Wolcott Phelps authored "The Phelps Elementary Reader for Public Schools Good Behavior" (1876). He composed articles for The Century, The Independent, The Christian Cynosure, and The Christian Union.
His translations included Lucien de La Hodde's "The Cradle of Rebellions: A History of the Secret Societies of France", The Island of Madagascar: A Sketch, Descriptive and Historical (1885), and The Fables of Florian (1888).
Semi-Weekly Vermont Record, February 28, 1865
John Wolcott Phelps ran for President in 1880 with the American Party, also called the Anti-Masonic Party, with Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas as his running mate---but the peak years for his interest in organizing along these particular political lines were 1871 and 1872.
John Phelps married the widow Anna Bardwell Mattoon (Davis) on April 30, 1883---
Our townsman, General J. W. Phelps, late Antimasonic candidate for the presidency, greatly surprised his friends early last Monday morning by joining a secret society---the oldest in existence. For particulars see marriage notices.
In Brattleboro, April 30, at St. Michael's Rectory, by the Rt. Rev. W. H. A. Bissell, Bishop of Vermont, Gen. John W. Phelps to Mrs. Anna B. Davis.
Vermont Phoenix, And Record And Farmer, May 4, 1883.
Before his final removal to Guilford, John W. Phelps saved his fine house "The Lindens" from the wreckers by selling it to Brattleboro School District No. 2 on July 13, 1882. The house became the Intermediate school for eighty or ninety students before it was finally auctioned off in May 1884. It was then removed to the south side of nearby Grove Street, where it stands today.
James Fisk At The Revere House
Vermont Record And Farmer, Friday, July 26, 1872.
James Fisk, Sr.
John W. Phelps On Secret Socities
There is but one alternative in the relation which the American people stand before the Masonic Lodge; their silence towards it shows either contempt or fear. But as the lodge is altogether too powerful to be despised, there remains as the only motive for silence that of fear. It is indeed true, that our republican government is under duress to this foreign institution.
Masonry is a Pagan parody on the Christian religion, and that the American people, of all people in the world, should drop the religion and take up the parody, is one of the most humbling facts against humanity that I know of.
Lincoln's administration was so completely under the control of the Lodge, and the Lodge through that administration has become so solidly established in power, that it seems at times almost impossible to wrest the affairs of the country from its grasp, and restore them to a sound American condition.
The Fables Of Florian
By Jean Pierre Claris de Florian
Translated By John Wolcott Phelps
A mountebank amidst a crowd
Thus cried aloud--
"Walk up, Messieurs and try the cure
For every evil men endure!
It is a powder which will give
All things for which you strive and live.
To fools it gives intelligence;
And to the guilty innocence.
Honors on rascals it bestows,
And to old women brings young beaux;
Secures old men young, pretty wives;
Makes madmen lead well-temper'd lives--
In short, whatever you would gain,
It will assist you to attain
It is a perfect panacea."
The juggler's table I drew near,
This wond'rous powder to behold
Of which such miracles were told.
It was a little powder'd gold!
[May 1, 1862]
Civil War Journal
"The town presents a gloomy aspect; hardly a dozen vessels along its wharves of all kinds, some of its wharves burnt, apparantly by burning cotton on them; stores all shut, nothing on the wharves streets dirty and nothing doing. The city presents an aspect fully due to that fierce barbarous spirit which it has so long manifested - a spirit better fitting a tribe of isolated Comanches, than so large an exporting city as New Orleans. The people are afraid of each other. . .Commodore Farragut sent the Brookline up the River yesterday after-noon."
Vermont Phoenix, May 29, 1862.
Gen. John W. Phelps may have been attempting, in his considerate manner, to speak with an unaccustomed Southern drawl---with the results, predictably, misinterpreted by his listeners? So fluent in several languages, such an attempt would be natural to the man.
The "gorgeous array" commentary is certainly more accurate. General Phelps was notorious for his downplaying the "dress parade" aspects of military life, occasionally to the point of offending some fellow officers.
Vermont Phoenix, September 4, 1862
Gen. John Wolcott Phelps
John Wolcott Phelps
Cabinet Card By Caleb Lysander Howe
"In consideration of his character as a man, his having been a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and served as an officer in the regular army in the war with Mexico, John Wolcott Phelps, of Brattleboro', was commissioned by Governor Fairbanks, on the 2d of May, 1861, Colonel of the First Regiment Vermont Volunteers, sent out under the call of President Lincoln for seventy-five thousand volunteers for three months' service. He went to Fortress Monroe with the regiment, and was commander of the post. On the 27th of May, 1861, he was promoted to Brigadier General of United States Volunteers. He went on an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, in November, 1861, and took military possession of Ship Island, Miss.; was with Commodore Farragut's fleet in forcing the opening of the Lower Mississippi, in April, 1862, and with the naval force taking possession of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, La., April 28, 1862, and of New Orleans, La., May 1, 1862, and organized the first negro troops. He was stationed at Carrollton, seven miles from New Orleans, and his camp was literally thronged with black fugitives. General Phelps formed the men of suitable age into companies, and made a requisition on General Butler, who was in command of the Department, for arms for them, saying, that he desired to raise three regiments of Africans for the defense of the point where he was located, which was unhealthy, and his men were dying at the rate of two or three a day. General Butler directed him to employ the contrabands in and about the camp, in cutting down all the trees, &c., for the purpose of defense, and ordered the quartermaster to furnish axes and tents for the contrabands. General Phelps replied that he was willing to organized African regiments for the defense of the Government, but would not become the mere slave-driver, "having no qualification that way," and tendered his resignation, which General Butler refused to accept.
"In August, 1862, General Phelps, with his reasons therefore, returned his commission to the President. Months afterwards, when circumstances compelled the Administration to adopt the very policy proposed by General Phelps, the President offered him a Major General's commission, which he would accept only on condition that it should bear date upon the day of his resignation. To this the President would not accede, as, while it would by only justice to General Phelps, it would be an implied censure of General Butler, whose conduct in the matter was approved by the Administration, though a change of policy became expedient and necessary afterwards.
"By an order of the rebel government, dated August 21, 1862, General Phelps was declared an outlaw, for having "organized and armed negro slaves for military service against their masters, citizens of the Confederacy."
"General Phelps was a most accomplished officer. By his constant thoughtfulness of the comfort of his men, and his peculiar mode of enforcing discipline, he was very much respected and beloved by his whole command. On resigning his commission he returned to Brattleboro', where he has since resided, enjoying the confidence and esteem of all who know him."
Otis Frederick Reed Waite, "Vermont in the Great Rebellion; containing Historical and Biographical Sketches". (Claremont, New Hampshire: Tracy, Chase and Co., 1869), pp. 258-261.
Jason W. Prouty Cabinet Card
In person, General Phelps was of a commanding presence, about six feet in height, with a well developed, powerful frame, and a dignified, stately bearing. When a newspaper reporter visited him in 1880, he observed that---
Keen hazel eyes look out from beneath bushy brows, but his white full beard and hair and candid expression give an appearance of gentle dignity rather than military harshness.
Christmas In Guilford
To General J. W. de Peyster
Brattleboro, Vt., Dec. 26, 1859.
Yours of the 18th inst. came into my hands day before yesterday morning, at a time when I was preparing to spend Christmas in my native place.
Towards the hour of sunset, I started to walk out on foot, but one of the young men of the town, a son of an old acquaintance, overtook me on the way; and it seemed to be the greatest era of his life, and the highest pleasure that he had ever enjoyed, to have me in his cutter with him. And as it turned out, he was a proper exponent of the feelings of all, old and young, from the oldest man down to the youngest girl. At least so I judged from their expressions of kindness and welcome to me.
Even the hills, trees and other inanimate objects, though buried in snow under a cold sky, seemed to smile upon me, as they might on some disembodied spirit that still lingered around them; for indeed I am disembodied of all that I once was. But it was strange that I should have been so warmly received. Never before has the moral world thrown such a warmth of expression over the physical world around me, for even the beauties of nature scoff at a wounded heart.
All the energy and enterprise---almost all the young men, have flown away, like water from a mountain pond, from my native town during the last thirty years, leaving the old men and girls at home. Of the latter, not a few have become old maids, and the air of tranquility and repose that pervades the once busy scene, is intense not to say lorn. It was already dark on on Christmas eve, when I approached the church---Christ's church, where my moral being was first nurtured, and which is one of the most picturesque edifices that I ever saw.
Upon an elevated site, amidst the noiseless quiet of the peaceful village, beneath the calm and stillness of a winter's twilight, that church was all lit up by an illumination, and was throwing its light out upon the pure, cold snows, as if on some extraordinary bridal feast---that of earth and heaven. It was as bright and cheery as the effulgence of music that announced peace and good will to men over the hills of Bethlehem. It was a strange sight---there where all was so still and lorn, to see the vestal light of religious truth kept so brightly burning, for ever since that little fane has been erected there, now near half a century, it has thus glowed on every Christmas eve, in celebration of the advent of our Saviour. Yet it seemed a strange sight as I saw it then, and I really wish that you might have seen it too. But still it might not have interested you much.
The bell was calling the villagers in, and I entered and took a seat with an old soldier of the war of 1812 (I think a Captain), and his family, old friends of my family as long as I can remember. Though the town has long been on the decline, the church was nearly full on this occasion. It was handsomely decorated with evergreen, with the star in the east, with appropriate mottoes, etc., and the choir, made up of fine looking young men and young women, had arranged their part of the exercises well. My father used to write a hymn for the choir on this occasion in years past. The clergyman's name is Ethan Allen. What a crowd of reminiscences thronged around my half melting heart!
There were the walls, the windows, the tables of law and love on the right, and left of the altar, upon which the eyes of so many of my friends had rested, who are now slumbering in dust. The grave-yard, where I saw the first corpse laid, is now full. Of my own family, consisting of eleven persons, only three remain, but in their place were eyes and lips as bright as theirs.
After the service, came a half hour of mutual greeting, and I must confess, General, that the apparent respect, esteem and confidence of the girls, with their warm bright eyes, and throbbing hearts, was the richest treat that I ever had in my life. I spent the night with the old soldier. He, his wife and a grown daughter and myself, sat down to a small supper-table, and talked over old times till late into night---till that hour of Christmas eve, when, according to the traditions received and believed in our youth, the cattle kneeled in their mangers. . .
On Christmas day I again attended church, dined with another old friend, who has looked out from a position of primitive simplicity---from a pedestal of granite, as it were, upon almost all the political changes that have taken place with us, during the period of our national existence, and when the sun began to kiss the cold puritanical hills of the west, I commenced my return to my lodgings. . . .
I could not, and perhaps should not tell you of all the deep emotions that have been stirred by this Christmas, for they might appear weak and foolish.
With renewed good wishes, enriched this time with all the tender reminiscences of a happy Christmas, I wish you many happy New Years, and am,
Joseph Williams, Esq., a wealthy merchant of Norwich, Connecticut, having sent four of his sons to increase the army of Washington at Cambridge, broke up his household and mercantile establishment in Norwich, and removed with his wife and other members of his family to the township of Brattleboro', on the Grants, and established himself in a small house on Connecticut river. Among this family so established was his young daughter Zipporah, then about eighteen years of age. . .
Written at Patapsco, Maryland,
about two years before his Death, in 1849
By John Phelps
(Brattleboro: Selleck & Davis, Book and Job Printers, 1886).
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans
Phelps, John Wolcott, soldier, was born in Guilford, Vt., Nov. 13, 1813; son of Judge John and Lucy (Lovell) Phelps; grandson of Timothy Phelps, sheriff of Cumberland county under the jurisdiction of New York, and a descendant of William Phelps, Windsor, Conn., 1635. He was graduated at the U.S. Military academy and brevetted 2d lieutenant in the 4th artillery, July 1, 1836; was promoted 2d lieutenant, July 28, 1836, and served in the Florida war, 1836-39, and in the Cherokee nation while removing the Indians to the West. He was promoted 1st lieutenant, July 7, 1838; served on the northern frontier during the Canada border disturbances, 1839-40, and at various forts in Michigan, 1840-41; at Fort Monroe, Va., and Carlisle barracks, Pa., 1841-45. In the war with Mexico, 1846-48, he served in the engagements leading up to the capture of the city of Mexico, and declined the brevet rank of captain, Aug. 20, 1847, for gallantry at Contreras and Churubusco. He was a member of the board that devised a complete system of instruction for siege, garrison, seacoast and mountain artillery, 1849-50; was promoted captain, March 31, 1850, and served in Texas, 1851-56, where he broke up a filibustering expedition. He was a member of the artillery board at Fort Monroe, Va., 1856-57; served on frontier duty in Kansas and on the Utah expedition, 1857-59, and resigned from the service, Nov. 2, 1859. Until the beginning of the civil war he resided in Brattleboro, Vt., where he wrote forceful articles pointing out the danger of the constantly increasing political influence of the slave states. He enlisted for the volunteer service and was appointed colonel of the 1st Vermont volunteers, May 2, 1861; took possession of and held Newport News for the defense of Hampton Roads, Va., May to November, 1861, and was engaged in several skirmishes. He was promoted brigadier-general of volunteers, May 17, 1861; served on the expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, late in 1861, when he took military possession of Ship Island, Miss., and with Commodore Farragut's fleet forced the opening of the lower Mississippi in April and May, 1862. While in garrison at Camp Parapet, La., in 1862, he organized the first Negro troops. He was, however, ordered by the government commander to cease such organization, and for that reason resigned, Aug. 21, 1862, but not before being declared an outlaw by the Confederate government. He declined the commission of major-general when the negroes were armed, and retired to Brattleboro, Vt., where he resided until 1883, when he was married to Mrs. Anna B. Davis, and removed to Guilford. He devoted himself to literary work; was the candidate for the American party for president of the United States in 1880; was vice-president of the Vermont Historical society, 1863-85, and of the Vermont Teacher's association, 1865-85. He contributed to current literature; translated Lucien de la Hodde's "Cradle of Rebellions" (1864) from the French, and is the author of: Good Behavior, text books for schools, adopted in the west (1880); History of Madagascar 1884), and The Fables of Florian (1888). See "Memoir" by C. H. C. Howard (1887). He died in Guilford, Vt., Feb. 2, 1885.
Rossiter Johnson and John Howard Brown, Editors, "The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans". (Boston, Massachusetts: The Biographical Society, 1904), Volume VII, p. 299.
Colonel Rush C. Hawkins
Col. Rush C. Hawkins contributed his vital recollections and correspondences, for Cecil Hampden Cutts Howard's 1886 memorial volume "The Life and Public Services of Gen. John Wolcott Phelps".
Almost Identified Women
Possibly John Wolcott Phelps' Niece
Possibly Mrs. Anna B. Davis
John Wolcott Phelps