Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thomas Jefferson Hampson's Civil War Memoir, "Peace on Earth"

T.J.  Hampson at about 40 years
This week, we are picking up the story of my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Hampson and his unpublished Civil War memoir.
After enlisting days after the shelling of Fort Sumter, Hampson was sent first from his home in Covington, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, to Carlyle Barracks, in Pennsylvania where he was put into the Fourth Cavalry Division and sent to Missouri in the Summer of 1861.  Missouri’s government was pro-southern and the Union strategy was to drive the government out before it could secede from the Union and give the South control of the central part of the Mississippi Valley and the transportation linkages offered by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
By August 10, the effort had been a success, but in the first major battle of the war in the western part of the country, Wilson’s Creek, Union General Nathaniel Lyon, the first general officer killed in the Civil War, was among the 1,000 men who died in the six bloody hours of fighting between 6 AM and noon that day.  The Rebels retained control of southwestern Missouri and held the Greene County town of Springfield.
Hampson was badly wounded that day and was left for dead in a stack of bodies in the basement of the Greene County Courthouse.  When the burial detachment came, he opened his eyes and would spend the next four months a prisoner of war until he and his friend David Davidson escaped and were found by the advancing army of General John C.  Fremont, and sent off in their ridiculous prison clothing to St.  Louis, where they were to report to the Benton Barracks there.  They had no intention of reporting right away because they had become local sensations as escaped and wounded prisoners and could not buy drink or food in those last days of 1861.  For that matter, they couldn't even steal it.  St.  Louis in December of 1861 is where we take up our story, exactly 150 years ago. 
A close call with a fierce looking Dutchman
We strolled up Fourth Street and as we were passing a restaurant, the scent of cooking victuals smote good and hard, and I suggested to Davidson that a breakfast would be the proper thing.  In this he agreed with me and we went in, took our place at the table and a waiter with his eyes bulging out at the sight of such an odd looking pair, came up and took our order.  You can just imagine the size of our appetite after our long ordeal in Springfield.  The amount of grube we stowed away that eventful morning was enormous. 
After the stuffing process, Davidson asked how I intended to pay for the repast and was somewhat fearful of the results when we came to settle up. 
The pay desk was near the front door presided over by a big fierce looking Dutchman, and how to get by him was a question that troubled us not a little.  “Now, David,” said I, “when we get up to the desk, you walk out and I will settle the bill somehow, but how I was to do it I did not have the remotest idea.  However, Davidson did as I instructed him, and I faced the savage looking landlord alone.
“Look here, my friend.  I have no money to pay for this meal, and you will have to charge it to Uncle Sam.” 
With that, I bolted out of the door and the landlord after me.  I did not get far before he had me.  Davidson hurried back to see the outcome of the affair and Mr.  Dutchman escorted us back to the restaurant.  After getting us back inside he opened up on us.
“Now you young rascals, vot you mean by running away like dot after you got your meal – did you think I vud charge you for a meal of victuals – you fellows come mit me.” And he took us up to a room over the restaurant. 
“Now, you youngsters stay as long as you want to, you can get your meals regular and it won’t cost you a cent.” 
I managed to mumble out our thanks when he shuts me up by saying “I want no thanks.  I am a Union man and have a brother in the service.  I do all I can for a soldier.”
He left us advising to wash up, comb our hair, and then come down to the office.  After we had performed the washing and hair combing act, we went down to the office.
The first words he uttered were “How much money you fellows got.”  After explaining our financial conditions, he handed each of us a five dollar bill, saying, “Now, go out and see the sights and be back here by dinner time.” 
The jig is up
We had a jolly time for several days.  One day we were walking along Chestnut Street and a sergeant came up to us and asked our names.  When we told him, he said, “You boys consider yourselves under arrest – come with me.” 
And he marched us up to the Planter’s House where General Halleck, then commanding officer in the department of Missouri, had his headquarters.  It seems that my mother and a very dear friend of mine had written to General Halleck making inquiries about me.  Mrs.  Hoag, the friend, was a very particular friend of the general and she had requested him to do all he could to discover my whereabouts.
The sergeant marched us into the General’s presence and when he and his staff saw us, they simply roared with laughter and Davidson and I both joined in.
After the General regained his composure he said, “well, young men, you are a handsome pair.  What command do you belong to, and who is your tailor?  Why didn’t you report to the Benton Barracks as you were ordered?”
Davidson told him we couldn’t find the barracks, that we hunted all over the city for them.  This explanation caused all of them to laugh again.  Well, we were turned over to the sergeant and taken to the barracks, made to throw away our Mardi Gras suits, and put on uniforms.  Then we were escorted back to headquarters where we received our discharge after an examination by the Army surgeon who reported that we would never be fit for service again. 
We received transportation to Covington.  I told General Halleck that I would be in the service again not withstanding the surgeon’s report, and would report for duty again.
This seemed to please him and he said that if I went into the service again, he would give me a commission, which he did three months later.
When I arrived at home I was looked upon as one arisen from the dead, as I had been reported killed at Wilson’s Creek.  Our family had given up all hope of my ever returning, and my unexpected appearance caused great surprise.  I was reduced to a shadow of my former self, and pulled down the scales at 110 pounds; when I enlisted, my weight was 164 pounds. 
Very few of my old friends recognized me and when I would inform them, they could hardly believe that I was the same big, strong boy who, a few months previous, had marched away, in the strength of youth – strong and vigorous manhood. 
The long road to Peace on Earth

Life at home seemed tame and commonplace, and I longed for the excitement of the tented field, and to be once again with my old comrades; to share in their dangers and rejoice with them in time of victory. 
My mother was very much opposed to my entering the service again, and did all in her power to prevent me.  In order to get away from home without too much friction, I was compelled to use quite a lot of diplomacy, and I am afraid that I was practicing just a little deception.  When I did leave, those at home thought I was to get a position of some kind that would not bring me in contact with active service in the field.
I notified General Halleck that I had fully recovered and was able-bodied and ready for service.  I also reminded him of his promise in regard to the commission, which promise he fulfilled to the letter.
I left Covington bound for Cairo, Illinois.  There I met two companies of the Fourth Cavalry and had quite a reunion.  I reported to General Grant and he ordered me to report to General H.  J.  Smith, at Columbus, Kentucky.  At that place I was attached to Colo.  Baker’s Engineer Corps, in which I served until 1865.
I was with Thomas when he made his notable march through Kentucky, and finally brought up at Nashville, Tennessee.  I was at first and second battles of Nashville, the second fight at Franklin, also Vicksburg and Shiloh.  We took Our Mountain and had many skirmishes too numerous to mention. 
It would be a long story to tell of all my experiences in my second service.  Suffice to say that I was quite willing to take up the life of a civilian again, and no one could have rejoiced more that I did when the war was over and peace spread her white wings over the land.  The sentiment of “Peace on Earth, good will to Men” was welcomed by all.

The memoir does not end there.  It describes Hampson's failed efforts to establish a tugboat business in Pensacola though he loses two boats to the stormy weather of the Florida Panhandle.  All is not lost, however, he meets Alice Knapp and soon they marry.  H and Alice head to Texas to try their luck at farming, but Texas didn't work for them either, so they headed up to Salida, Colorado with little -- what else -- Thomas Jefferson Hampson, my grandfather, in tow.

They would have three other sons and one daughter in Colorado, and also a little success in the silver mines.  He retired to Bonanza, Colorado and contributed occasional pieces to the Salida Record.  

He died in 1930, 59 years after the sweaty horse galloped into the little town of Covington, Kentucky with its rider shouting the news that Fort Sumter had fallen and the great war had begun.   


  1. I am the daughter of Howard Hap Hampson, who is the son of Gordon L Hampson, who is the son of Harry Hampson, who is the son Thomas Jefferson Hampson. It is always a pleasure to hear stories of my ancestors but even more pleasurable to read them. Thank you so very much for writing this! I hope to find and read more. Which part of the Hampson clan do you hale from? I am my dad's oldest daughter, he has 2 other children from later marriages. I am married and have 2 sons of my own, we currently live in Bailey, Colorado. My boys may not carry on the Hampson name but are as proud as I am of our history. I am so very fortunate to be a Hampson!!!

    Thanks again!
    Alicia Callie Hampson Parham

    1. Alicia. My mother was the granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson Hampson. Her father was, natch, Thomas Jefferson Hampson, the eldest of TJ Seniors Children. He married Lena Estelle Stephenson and had several children, mhy Mom the eldest, Mildred, Elmer, Charles and Barbara. My grandfather and his other brothers were very early starting the Piggly Wiggly stores and at one time had several in the west until the depression began and wiped them out, leaving only a store in Crescent City, CA which is still run by the Hampson family.

      My mother married Russell Royer in Medford, Oregon where they had moved when my mother was a young woman.

      Their children were me, Robert and my older brother Charles. I have a few things from Harry Hampson, including the great epic poem, Resume and I have a partial copy of TJ Sr's memoir, from which this story came from.

      My brother has two children, both of whome live in Seattle -- Jordan and Annie -- and I have one natural child, Amy, who lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two grandchildren, Bobby and Lulu. My brother has four grandchildren, two from each child. I also have two adopted children, Ari and Chloe who also live here in Seattle.

      You can find all my contact information at Gallatin Public Affairs in Seattle.

      We were just in Colorado this past weekend for a wedding and as I look at the map, we were not far from one another.

  2. Hi Bob -

    I just ran across this article while Goggling a little family history during some down time at work. You and I just also be distant cousins - My father is Chester Knapp Hampson III, whose father was Chester Knapp Hampson II, whose father was Chester Knapp Hampson Sr., whose father was T.J. Sr.

    While I was not very close to my grandfather, I was close to his uncle Harry, who must have been your granfather T.J.'s brother (and who was ancient when I knew him), and Harry's son Gordon Hampson. I guess Denver was a small town, because Gordon's wife (Frances Cambers) was childhood friends with my grandpa Chet's first wife (my granmother, Wenona Cordner). Grandpa Chet and Uncle Gordon continued to visit the family graves in Salida every Memorial Day until their deaths.

    My father and I still live in the denver area, though I think we're the only of T.J.'s decendents left in the area. My dad's cousin Tom lives in Indiana, and his son, my second cousin Thomas, lives in Portland with his wife & son.

    This is the first I've ever read any excerpts from T.J.'s journals, so I appreciate your sharing!

    Thanks you!
    Ashlee Cordner Hampson Vogt

  3. Ashlee,

    My name is Alicia Callie Hampson Parham and Gordon Lynn Hampson was my Granddaddy. I still live near Denver, actually about 40 miles SW of Denver off of Hwy 285. I know I have met your father and grandfather and may have even met you at one of Gordon and Frannie's dinners.

    If Granddaddy were still alive, he'd be thrilled to read the history of T.J. and know that it was being shared. I miss him almost every day. Like T.J. Hampson, Gordon was full of his own history and outrageous stories. Great-grandpa Harry was also a character. I have many fond memories of him singing, dancing and playing his harmonica for me.The memories are nice to have and I am forever grateful that I'm a Hampson. To have such a rich history.....I only hope I leave this world with my loved ones telling my stories and exclaiming over the character I was!!

    So I guess in closing, don't assume you guys are the only ones left in Colorado(tsk,tsk), there's me and my two sons. And just so my brother isn't left out, he's in Texas(another home for us Hampsons)with 2 sons of his own and a daughter. Oh! I can't forget my sister, she lives in Idaho, married but no children. LOVE, LOVE that there are more of us out there! We haven't been able to infiltrate the entire continent yet, but we're slowly working on it!!

    Proud to be a Hampson!!
    Alicia Hampson Parham

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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