Monday, April 11, 2011

"Cap" Hampson and the 150th Anniversary of the Fort Sumter Shelling

In memory of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, The Cascadia Courier will be sharing parts of an unpublished memoir written by my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Hampson.  In this post he will describe how news of the shelling of Fort Sumter arrived on April 12, 150 years ago, and how the news affected him and his young friends attending Farmer’s College in Covington, Ohio, a few miles from Cincinnati.

We’ll read how he and his best friend volunteered and headed off by train to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania to become members of Company D of the Fourth US Cavalry. 

His enlistment date was May 21, 1861 and we’ll pick up that story next month on that date as the boys from Farmer’s College recoil at the bad food, the hard beds and a mean sergeant at Carlisle Barracks.

Later, in the summer, we’ll follow him into western Missouri where his unit is involved in several skirmishes and then in the first major battle in the west, Wilson’s Creek, where he is seriously wounded, left for dead, captured by the confederates and imprisoned in the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield, Missouri.

Don't worry.  He escapes, an 80 pound 19-year old, recuperates and rejoins the Union Army, serving to the end of the war. 

Hampson started writing the piece in 1900 when he was 58 years of age and living in Bonanza, Colorado, 15 miles south and east of Salida, where his extended family ran a grocery store.

That's Cap in the center with the beard, Alice at his left. 
My Mom is on camera right in the second row.
“Cap” was his nickname, though it didn’t come from his military service although, after he rejoined, he was given a commission by General Halleck.  The name comes from what he did immediately after the war, running a steam tug hauling lumber and other products around Pensacola Bay.  He didn’t find much fortune in Florida, failing at his first attempt to make a go of his maritime business, but he did find his wife, Alice Elmira Knapp, with whom he had seven children.  They bumped around some – farming in Texas a couple of years, and then heading back down to Florida for another try running a tugboat.  It sank in a storm.

That led him to Colorado for the silver mining, which turned out pretty good. Good enough for him to follow current events from his porch in Bonanza, comment on them periodically in the "Salida Record," and watch his sons marry well and grow the grocery business into a fleet of Piggly Wigglys in the western United States.  Unfortunately, just like Cap's tugs, all but two of them, the Crescent City, California store and the one in Medford, Oregon sank in the hard times after World War I.  Cap Hampson died in 1930.

Unfortunately for us, when Cap rejoined the Civil War after his recuperation, he sums up the additional two years of his military career in just one paragraph, though it names battles like Memphis, Shiloh, the march across Kentucky, Howell Mountain and others.  Sounds like nothing added up to his experiences in Missouri, or perhaps the sum of it all was just too big and too ugly, even though he was wounded four other times, to tell what he liked most, an entertaining and enthusiastic story. 

Following him through the war, in August, we will get to know Missouri pretty well -- how it developed as a slave state through immigration from the south, and grew into a free state when immigrants from Germany, holding strong anti-slavery views, changed the political demographics, kicked out the south-leaning governor and put a free-stater in.  Even so, the 13th star in the Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, was Missouri's, though never recognized by the state or the North.

Cap had a few issues as a writer. Clearly, he needed an editor when he sent along his material to the Salida Record. He misspells Fort Sumter, as in the pump, Fort Sumpter, and he has the date wrong, saying that the shelling came April 19, not, as is correct, April 12. He is thrilled to meet General John C. Fremont, but spells him as "Freemont." As a recruit, he takes the railroad to his training site in Pennsylvania, Carlisle Barracks, P.A.  All the punctuation, spelling, and grammar is his.  Nor have I edited his text.  This is what he recounted about the start of the Civil War.

"The Captain"
Thomas Jefferson Hampson

Farmer's College

The morning of April 19, 1861 arose bright and clear.  All was quiet and peaceful in our little village.  No one dreamed that before night, the peaceful calm would be turned into a scene of excitement and turmoil never before witnessed within its quiet borders.

A horseman, one of the residents of College Hill, who had gone to Cincinnati quite early, came dashing into town and gave the startling and thrilling news that Fort Sumpter had been fired upon and the shot that had been heard around the world had been fired by a traitor’s hand.

Major Anderson and his heroic band was at that moment surrounded by a fire, shot and shell was decimating the ranks of the noble defenders of our beloved flag – the Stars and Stripes; that emblem of the free and brave, was in danger of being hauled down from the place it had floated for years, and trained in the dust by our own citizens.

Among the college students, it came as a thunderclap from a clear sky – books were thrown aside and the only question that occupied our minds was the probability of a Civil war in America.  There were about fifty students at the college from the south, and they naturally sided with the South.  As the politicals say, party lines were drawn, resulting a number of knock down arguments.  All the Northern students were brimful to overflowing with patriotism, and each one imagined himself a hero with a thousand scalps of the hated rebels dangling in his belt.

I was thoroughly imbued with the war spirit and made up my mind that I would be one of the first to enlist in the defense of the flag.  Our motto was, “Our Union Must and Shall be Preserved.”

My favorite chum at that time was a student by the name of John Sheppard; he was just as enthusiastic as myself.  After a long and serious consultation, we agreed to leave the College and enlist in the Union army.

The President of the College, Professor James Tuckerman, did all in his power to persuade us to reconsider our determination.  It was of no use, as we had fully made up our mind and no argument could change our patriotic intentions.
Volunteers crossing into Cincinnati to enlist
 Arriving at home, I was up against a snag that I had not counted on, or reckoned in my calculations, my mother’s consent to my becoming a bold soldier boy.  I was yet a minor and it was necessary to gain her consent before I could enlist.  It was a long and hard struggle, but, at last, after trying to impress upon her mind that the salvation of the whole country depended upon my joining the army, she gave a very reluctant consent. 

The following day, we packed our belongings, bade all the boys “good-bye” and were off for the war.  Blow high or blow low, we were determined to fight and fight we did.  I might add here without fear of digression, we got all the fight wanted before Robert E.  Lee handed General U.S.  Grant his sword under the celebrated apple tree.

President Lincoln had issued a call for 75,000 volunteers.  Recruiting was going on in all the Northern states.  The sound of fife and drum, the tramp of armed men were familiar sounds.  Preparation for the great struggle was the scene on every hand.  The North was determined that the Union and the Constitution would be upheld.  The South was just as determined that it should be destroyed.

After persuading mother to let me enlist, John and I concluded to join a volunteer regiment.  We had a friend in the regular Cavalry Service acting as recruiting sergeant in Cincinnati and he persuaded us to join the regular Cavalry.  He gave us a glowing description of all the glories and pleasures to be met up with on the regular Cavalry and we, like a precious pair of chumps, swallowed all he sold.  If he ever gets forgiveness for the all outrageous lies he told us two suckers he will be a dandy.  He was a monumental liar as we found out before we had been in the service very long.
Drilling Infantry
After entering, we set off with about one hundred recruits were sent off to Carlisle Barracks, P.A.  Our trip to that delectable village was an ovation all along the route.  Patriotic young ladies with flowers, miniature flags, and good things for the inner man were in evidence at every station along the route, which, of course, was very pleasing to our vanity.  Each individual recruit imagined himself a hero of the first magnitude; that all this display was for his special benefit, allowing his egotistical powers full sway. 

Oh, what a lot of conceited Jack Napes we were to be sure; as we passed through all these scenes of popular demonstrations of loyalty to every mother’s son of us, pictured out in his own mind the many wonderful deeds of daring and valor we would perform when we were confronted on the battlefield by the enemies of our country.  We would mow them down!  Whole regiments at one full swoop, taking prisoners by the Brigades, ending the war in a few months.  Come home gallantly marching with a double star of a Mayor General adorning each shoulder.  Well, did we do it?  Were all of our dreams of success realized?
If I remember right, we did not.  In our high flights of fancy we never once asked ourselves this most important question.  “What would the other fellow be doing all this time?”  “Would they tamely submit to capture and slaughter, without striking back at the foe?”

A million dead men that wore the blue and the gray gave a silent and emphatic denial to this question.  We met foemen worthy of our steel; brave and gallant men they were, even though they were fighting in an unholy cause.  They thought they were right; thinking thus, fought and died for the belief.
(On May 21, this blog will publish TJ Hampson's experiences at the Carylisle Barracks, 150 years after he lived them).


  1. thank you for making this available to me and my mother is Beverly Estell Hampson I never saw this letter till now.
    Tamara Johnson

  2. Funny thing about that Carlisle Barracks. It became Carlisle Indian School where my Great-Uncle and Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Charles Bender and many of his siblings were sent in ~1898 and where my great grandmother Elizabeth Bender taught in ~1915. Something about that spot in Pennsylvania and my ancestors.
    Can't wait for more Bob!

  3. I'm also related to Thomas J. hampson my great Grandfather and Grandmother Chester and Mary Hampson are the two standing in back middle.
    Thank you.

  4. Hi My Name is Yetta Rubio, My Mom is Florence Hampson daughter of Frank Hampson who is son of Harry Hampson who is son of Britton Shaw Hampson. Do any of those names ring a bell? We may be related. Britton Shaw Hampson came to New York from England.