Giles Waldo Shurtleff:  Leadership in the Cause of Freedom

John Mercer



Shurtleff Statue
Photo by Jonah Valk


Donning his old uniform, Giles Waldo Shurtleff made his way to the Main Street studio of Emily Ewing Peck. The old man was fond of Peck, young enough to be his daughter and gracious enough to make the summer heat of 1897 a little more bearable. Certainly the heat outside Petersburg thirty-three years earlier was worse, Ohio summers were rarely as brutal as those in tidewater Virginia. The uniform differed, as well. His brevet to Brigadier General did not come until the conflict was nearly over. So, with his heavy sword strapped on, and in full uniform, he posed for the sculptor. The process took several days, and despite constant pain from a failing lung, Shurtleff patiently stood so that he could be immortalized in bronze.[1]


            The artist displayed a plaster cast of the general with his arm outstretched at Oberlin College’s Speer Library the following September. Any one of the visitors who had seen Shurtleff lecture recognized the familiar pose. Peck unveiled her work and said that the form on display was incomplete. She intended to add another figure, specifically a “negro to whom the General is presenting a gun.” The artist intended to salute Shurtleff’s contribution to the acceptance of African American soldiers during America’s great Civil War. After discarding earlier ideas of having the figure of Shurtleff protecting a former slave with an American flag, she decided to have the General handing the black man a gun. “He will be at the general’s left hand,” explained Peck, “a contented, rather rough figure, just leaving his old life of slavery, awakening to the new possibilities, seeing a new idea, wondering, hesitating, deciding to act.” [2]


            Shurtleff, his wife, fellow faculty and friends who where at the Library to see the unveiling must all have been a bit nostalgic thinking about the historic events they had witnessed through or with Giles Waldo Shurtleff. In his sixty-six years, Shurtleff had become one of Oberlin’s most famous sons. From Illinois farm boy, he had worked his way through college and then volunteered to fight for the Union. In that cause he led troops in several engagements, and upon his departure from the service, the Army brevetted him Brigadier General. Suffering almost constant pain from the wounds he received during his service, he continued to serve his alma mater as a tutor, professor, administrator, and finally, as trustee. In Oberlin, a town noted for coming early to the cause of women’s rights and abolition, Shurtleff represented their ideals in action. He not only espoused the causes of civil rights in his speeches and lectures, he acted upon his beliefs.


            Shurtleff’s father David was born in the early days of the American republic near the birthplace of its revolution. But this Massachusetts boy did not stay long in his home state; rather he traveled north to Vermont where he met Ruth Knapp, a native of Fairfield. The two married in 1816, and they continued north to Stanstead, Quebec, in the Canadian territory. The couple, he in his mid twenties and she in her early twenties, prospered enough to support a large family, and over the next fourteen years Ruth bore eight children, all of whom survived. Ruth gave birth to her eighth child, Giles Waldo, on September 8, 1831. Shortly after his birth, the family returned to the United States, to Lowell, Massachusetts. There Mrs. Shurtleff completed her child bearing with the couple’s only American born child. Giles retained few memories of either Massachusetts or Canada, for in his fifth year the family once again moved. This time they journeyed west. [3]


            David Shurtleff preceded his family to the wildernesses of Illinois. He staked out a large claim of virgin prairie land some fifty miles west of Chicago. He then returned to Lowell to bring his family to the American frontier. By wagon the eleven Shurtleffs, with children aged one to twenty-one, rambled to Albany, New York. Here they boarded a canal boat and floated westward on the very successful and relatively new Erie Canal. At Buffalo, they booked passage on a steam ship bound for Toledo, Ohio. There, they took the short train ride to Adrian, Michigan. Once again the Shurtleffs piled into a wagon and traveled the final 300 miles to the family’s new homestead near Genoa, Illinois.[4]


            Here David and Ruth Shurtleff ended their wandering. On the western frontier of the United States, the Shurtleffs cleared land, built a home, and broke ground for planting. The hard work and rugged life on the flat lands of northern Illinois trained the children in the ways of self-sufficiency. No schools existed until the construction of a one-room log schoolhouse. In 1850 Giles took the opportunity for a more formal education when he moved to the home of one of his older sisters and her husband in St. Charles, close to Chicago. When another chance for schooling arose a few years later with yet another married sister across the state line in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Giles headed north. Here Shurtleff met John G. McMinn, superintendent of schools in Kenosha, and later chief of all schools in Wisconsin. McMinn encouraged the young man to look into a college education. At about the same time an elderly Baptist minister suggested a fairly new school in Oberlin, Ohio. The clergyman had preached with Charles G. Finney in earlier days, and for two years Finney held the Presidency of the Ohio school. Shurtleff wrote to Finney and requested information, and received a college catalogue describing an Oberlin education. Pleased with the prospects, Shurtleff journeyed to Ohio in 1853.[5]


            The village that Shurtleff entered in the early spring of 1853 was already an energized and radical community. President Finney ardently espoused abolition, and his fiery Sunday sermons were immensely popular with the students. Finney was a significant part of the 1934 movement of students from the Lane Theological Seminary to Oberlin. When anti-slavery students at Lane were ordered to cease their activities by school president Lyman Beecher, they withdrew from the seminary. These students, dubbed the Lane Rebels, decided to enroll at Oberlin, if the Lorain County institution promised to allow the admission of black students and hire Charles G. Finney and two other professors. Oberlin agreed, and Finney’s notoriety as an abolitionist and preacher grew. The college had taken its place in Ohio and the country as one of the preeminent centers of abolition. Earlier the college made history when it became the first to admit women on a coeducational basis. The community also accepted fugitive slaves as residents, or assisted them in their escape from the United States to Canada. The northern Ohio town was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.[6]


            Situated in the center of Lorain County, Oberlin was a regional anomaly, however. Other communities in the county were far less disposed to radical abolitionism, and referred to Oberlin as “nigger town.” Schools that featured Oberlin College trained teachers were called “nigger schools,” and churches that employed Oberlin College men were called “nigger churches.” Oberlin College men were simply “nigger men.” One community about six miles from Oberlin erected a signpost pointing the way to the college town. The sign featured a “picture of a negro running with all his might to reach the place.” He said that even tavern signs made light of the village of Oberlin’s growing black population. Rumors also sprang up regarding the place. One such tale was that students were required to room in mixed race environments, even though there was only one black student enrolled at the time. Another involved a white student who hired a black maid. Over forty papers nationally reported that both were students and that they married on campus. [7]


            Whatever his impressions of the town, Shurtleff arrived nearly penniless, and began the process of working his way through college. As a month of winter break remained before classes resumed, Shurtleff hired himself out chopping wood to pay for classes and board. He made the acquaintance of a local preacher from whom he rented a room. Once established as a capable college student, he started tutoring others for extra money. This is not to say that he graduated from performing manual labor. A good deal of the Oberlin educational philosophy revolved around physical work. First year students performed four hours of labor per day, second and third year students toiled for three hours a day.[8]


            Shurtleff toiled during the turbulent 1850s. Both local and national events helped crystallize the young man’s reformist zeal. On the national scene, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, energized many Oberlin students. Locally they witnessed first hand one of the more famous slave rescues in 1858 when John Price, a fugitive slave who had escaped from his masters in 1856 was captured in Wellington, Ohio by US Deputy Marshal Jacob K. Lowe, and friends of the aggrieved slave owner. More than a score of angry Oberlinians and Wellingtonians rescued Price from the Wellington jail. Twenty-one of the rescuers, including Oberlin students and professors, were themselves arrested and spent some ninety days in a Cleveland jail. They returned to Lorain County to a heroes’ welcome, and by the end of the decade armed patrols were established in the village to stop slave catchers from working in Oberlin.[9]


            Despite, or perhaps because of the turmoil, the Oberlin lifestyle and philosophy agreed with the Shurtleff and he graduated with honors in 1859. He hoped to continue in his Oberlin education toward a degree from the college’s theological seminary. In order to pay for these studies he was employed by the college as a tutor in Latin. This was Shurtleff’s first position with the college, and it began his life-long association with the college as an employee. [10]


            The Oberlin population considered the presidential campaign that ushered in the 1860s closely and they resolved to support Abraham Lincoln. But they did not cheer the Lincoln movement with the same gusto the slave rescuers had received. The Republican candidate lacked abolitionist credentials, and some local editorialists suggested that the fledgling Republican Party could have selected a better man. Still, they grudgingly admitted that he was better than any of the several choices the fractured Democrats put forward. For example, the Oberlin News ridiculed Stephen A. Douglas saying that the Little Giant “drew himself up one inch above his usual height, so as to attain the dizzy altitude of five feet two.” Meanwhile, Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Clay packed a local meetinghouse, where the Lincoln Glee Club entertained the cheering crowd. Lincoln carried Oberlin. When newly inaugurated President Lincoln called on the loyal states of the Union to provide troops, the sons and of Oberlin responded with vigor. [11]


            Oberlinians flocked to serve the Union. Shurtleff, like scores of other young men, signed up. By the end of the war approximately 850 Oberlinians had enlisted in the Union Army. The Oberlin lads who first answered the call to arms fashioned themselves “the Monroe Rifles,” in honor of a prominent local professor who was then serving in the Ohio State Senate. The college community selected and supported Monroe’s move from the classroom to the statehouse in 1855, and watched with pride as he ascended to the diplomatic corps and later the United States Congress. They also celebrated his marriage to Charles G. Finney’s daughter Julia. He returned to Oberlin in 1881 and finished his life as a professor of political economy and history at the college. The Monroe Rifles elected Giles Shurtleff their Captain.[12]


Oberlinians not able to fight also supported the war effort. The women of the town outfitted the volunteers with uniforms, others in the town donated money; thousands of dollars were raised for relief. Others assisted Shurtleff with debt guarantees. Two prominent townsfolk agreed to act as security against the $300.00 to $400.00 in outstanding student loans that young soldier still carried.[13]


Captain Shurtleff immediately traveled to Cleveland’s newly created Camp Taylor to request that the Oberlin Company be mustered in. The told him that there was no room for them in the regiment that was forming there - the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). Shurtleff contacted Senator Monroe and asked him to use his political muscle so that the Oberlin boys could be mustered in. Monroe complied, and the state accepted them.[14]


At the end of April, 1861 Oberlin saw their young men off with speeches, prayers, and a payment of $5.00 “pin money.” The Monroe Rifles boarded the train for Cleveland and reported to Camp Taylor. There they were mustered into service as Company C of the 7th OVI. They joined companies from all over northern Ohio, including three from Cleveland, and one each from Painesville, Huron, Franklin Mills, Ravenna, Warren and Youngstown. Company C and the rest of the 7th enjoyed their brief stay in Cleveland. They cheered Ohio Governor William Dennison, Jr. when he visited on May 3rd, and were content in their make shift facility just south of Public Square. However, they stayed only briefly in Cleveland and on May 5th they boarded trains bound for the other end of the state. Their destination was Camp Dennison, located outside Cincinnati, and here they completed basic training. While at Camp Dennison, Brigadier General, and Oberlin graduate, Jacob Dolson Cox commanded the 7th OVI. Prior to Cox’s entry into the military he married the daughter of Oberlin College President Charles G. Finney. He, his brother-in-law James Monroe, and James A. Garfield formed the “Radical Triumvirate,” and pushed for social reform in the Ohio statehouse. After the war Cox served as Governor of Ohio, United States Secretary of Interior, United States Congressman, and Oberlin College Trustee. As the commanding General, Cox had his work cut out for him as the Cincinnati facility was less than fully equipped. In the early years of the war effort, the federal government had yet to fully fund the effort of the state volunteers, and Ohio had yet to fully equip their camps. Still, the 7th OVI learned the basics drills. [15]


            Training continued throughout late spring and summer 1861. Upon their arrival the regiment elected its Colonel. The 7th had a choice of two prominent Ohioans; Erastus B. Tyler, an active member of the Ohio National Guard, or James A. Garfield, who was absent on the day of the election. By a vote of 29 to 1 the regiment selected Tyler. Later in the nineteenth century an elderly Giles Shurtleff with the advantages of hindsight took pride in the fact that Company C cast the lone vote for Monroe’s friend, and future President Garfield. One week later General Cox brought important news to the officers of the 7th about new three-year enlistments. The War Department realized the inadequacy of the ninety-day enlistments, such as those of the men in the 7th. Cox encouraged his officers to convince their troops to agree to three years of service. James Monroe visited from Oberlin to encourage his Rifles to stay and fight. About seventy-five percent of the men agreed to increase their commitment. The 7th had one of the highest re-enlistment rates of any in Ohio. Company C anticipated the exodus of those enlistees that did not extend their commitment, and in June Captain Shurtleff returned to Oberlin for a few days to recruit more men and refill the ranks. He was, for the most part, successful. The remainder of June was an exciting time for the regiment, for on the 22nd they received their weapons, equipment, and full uniforms. On the 25th Major General George B. McClellan reviewed them, and on the 26th they left camp to become part of the Army of Occupation – West Virginia – Department of Ohio. [16]


            The battles of western Virginia, now West Virginia, were not as famous, nor as regularly retold as later, more famous Civil War battles. They comprised a small part of the modest campaign in which General McClellan experienced his only real success against Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Thanks in large part to the effective generalship of McClellan’s subordinate General William S. Rosecrans, and the incessant feuding of Lee’s subordinates General John B. Floyd and General Henry A. Wise, the Confederates found themselves pushed out of western Virginia, paving the way for those counties to claim independent statehood. For Shurtleff and Company C, however, the minor battles of the Kanawha River valley had important and long lasting consequences.[17]


            The 7th OVI saw its first heavy action at Cross Lanes, Virginia on August 26, 1861, less than six months after the Monroe Rifles left the cheering crowd at the Oberlin train station. The days leading to the battle of Cross Lanes witnessed a series of troop movements pitting the Union forces commanded by General Cox against former United States Secretary of Defense and newly named Confederate General, John B. Floyd. The movements in the deadly chess game included Cox’s first mistake. After setting a strong line in western Virginia with the 7th at Cross Lanes, he ordered the Ohio boys to withdraw a full day’s march. Cox did not understand the full positioning of Floyd’s troops, and he left a significant hole in his line. When he realized that Cross Lanes needed defending, he ordered a counter march and sent Colonel Tyler and his men back to positions near their old campground.[18]


            When the 7th encamped, their Colonel made a crucial mistake. He was confident that the Confederate forces had, for the most part, left the area. He was fully content to wait until the next morning to probe the area and ascertain the enemy’s whereabouts. The Confederate forces under General Floyd were, in fact, less than half a mile away, and Floyd understood that a chance for victory lay in front of him. Col. Tyler did have the foresight to set up three companies as pickets, including Company C. He ordered no fires be lit that night, and the men spent a most uncomfortable night. They arose and began a breakfast of green corn and coffee at 5 a.m. It was at that time that Floyd’s men attacked. The 7th was nearly surrounded. Their single regiment, about 1,000 men, was facing an army of 7,000 infantry, 300 cavalry, and 10 cannons, and the Union soldiers were not in a single defensive line, but rather split up on different hills. Shurtleff and Company C saw some of the fiercest fighting, sometimes hand to hand. The Confederates overran the companies that had been assigned to picket duty, but it was generally regarded that their fighting was tenacious enough to allow the rest of the regiment escape. The Oberlin boys, along with two companies of Clevelanders, charged into the oncoming Virginians, but after capturing a flag or two were driven back into the woods and then forced to flee. The retreat of the 7th was utterly chaotic, but as Floyd chose not to follow up on his initial victory, most of the regiment was able to regroup to fight another day.[19]


            The day ended badly for Shurtleff. He described his first major engagement this way

As it is possible I may never return to the North, I must speak of the bravery of the boys in our unequal conflict. The boys were all brave, and cool and manageable. Cross was wounded as I was passing him. He cried out, “I am wounded, but keep firing boys.” Morry was wounded in the head so as to cause quite a sore and the blood flowed quite freely, but he paid no attention to it, kept steadily at his work. . . . I stepped forward in front the tree behind … to get a fair view of the enemy, and a volley of bullets by me on every side – one passed through my blouse. There was a regiment of the enemy … at our right advancing and firing. I ordered an oblique fire of the first platoon and was passing back to the rear…. Bullets were whizzing through our ranks like hail stones, a whole regiment was upon us in front, a strong detachment pushing upon our right flank and a cannon was being placed on a hill which perfectly commanded our position. We were entirely cut off from the main body of our regiment, who were already retreating and only firing scattering shots. But I had been ordered to hold the hill and had thus far done so. . . .[20]

Holding the hill cost Shurtleff and thirty-four others from Company C their freedom. Floyd’s forces took them prisoner. For the Oberlin college tutor turned Captain, a yearlong ordeal in several Confederate prisons began.


            Oberlinians’ first report of their company’s action was not accurate as the local paper announced Shurtleff’s death: “The Seventh Attacked. Co. C Terribly Cut Up, Capt. Shurtleff Killed!!” The story went on to say that they would “present, as soon as they can be obtained, full obituaries of all our honored dead.” Fortunately for the Captain’s friends in Oberlin, the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Still, many deprivations lay ahead of him.[21]


‘On to Richmond’ was the first leg in Shurtleff’s prison camp odyssey. Shurtleff and his men marched through mud and mountains to the Confederacy’s newest capital. The trip was unpleasant. Enlisted men were tied together “with a rope, like a gang of slaves,” in an attempt, the Captain believed, to humble the men.[22] The Confederates did not bind Shurtleff and the only other officer in the captive’s ranks, but rather paroled them, or accepted the Union officers’ promise not to attempt an escape. Shurtleff’s captors offered him a horse, but he declined to ride when his men had to walk. It was during these first days of captivity that the seriousness of their plight became evident to the twenty-nine year old. One cold and rainy evening, the men slept out of doors in a pen. Food was a constant struggle, as their guards issued only a few skillets, and cooking for all the men with such limited means took hours. The journey to Richmond for the men of Company C was a constant struggle to get enough to eat, to stay warm, and to endure the abuse heaped upon them by the civilians who gawked at the bound captives. [23]


            Once in Richmond the Confederates literally warehoused their charges in a tobacco barn. Shurtleff said he was brought to his new prison by the infamous Wirtz of Andersonville, but more discouraging to the Captain was the separation from the men of his company. Only the officers of the 7th remained in the warehouse, while the enlisted men were sent, to Shurtleff’s “great regret,” to prisons in New Orleans. [24]


            Shurtleff described the first of his several jails, the Richmond tobacco warehouse, as a single room, forty by sixty feet. There were more than eighty officers sharing this space, all of whom were fed a diet of wheat bread and boiled beef. Additional food items and comforts could be purchased, if an inmate had money. The Confederates supplied no bedding, but some of the officers purchased blankets and mattresses. Shurtleff was less interested in creature comforts, and sold his watch to obtain copies of Thackeray, Livy and Virgil. The Ohioan bristled when he was forced to deal with Confederate martinets, such as a guard named Withers, who threatened Shurtleff when he did not respond to roll call quickly enough. In a showdown with the sentry Shurtleff dared Withers to shoot, but the Confederate proved to be only bluster.[25]


            In September 1861 Shurtleff was among thirty officers transferred from the prison in Richmond to Castle Pinckney, a dismantled fort in Charleston, South Carolina. The trip was long, and punctuated by more jeering crowds. Food was scarce, and often very poor in quality. In one account Shurtleff describes “salt pork full of maggots,” and in another, “bacon, positively decayed and alive with skippers.” The prisoners were not immediately housed in Castle Pinckney, as it was not ready for occupancy when the captives arrived. Life was no better when the castle opened for business. Shurtleff described seven or eight officers in rooms only ten by fifteen feet. Enlisted men crammed fifteen into a similarly small room. By this time few had money left, and clothing was a problem, the Captain’s underwear was gone and what remained of his uniform was in tatters. Some of the enlisted men were even worse off, nearly naked. Rations were terribly meager. Portions intended to last five days were often consumed in three, leaving men with no food for two.[26]


            Shurtleff further complained that sickness was taking its toll on the men. As of December 1st, 1861, several enlisted men had succumbed to fever, “and a surgeon, Dr. S. Griswold, 38th N.Y. regt, is now lying dead across the Hall.” After three months in prison the displaced Oberlinian was becoming demoralized, as he feared that a few more months of captivity (without the government stepping in and arranging an exchange) would surely lead to the death of all. Yet, Shurtleff’s disappointment with the United States government’s lack of action was not nearly as strong as his displeasure with the Confederates. “Now don’t suppose,” he wrote home, “that my courage is in the least abated…. I would rather drag out a miserable existence here and finally die an ignoble death, than have these base miscreants recognized by our Government as anything but the traitors which they are.”[27]


One of the more dramatic events of Shurtleff’s Charleston incarceration was the great Charleston fire. On December 11, 1861 as most of the business district of Charleston burned the prisoners in Castle Pinckney remained locked in their keep. Shurtleff said the guards were ordered not to release the Union boys should the fire broach the castle. Fire did reach their walls, and the windows were too hot to be touched by the inmates, but they were not consumed. They were, however, transferred to a jail in Columbia, South Carolina.[28]


            Shurtleff’s time in city jail in Columbia passed more easily. His health improved as did his diet and accommodations. The inmates also received a very welcome delivery of clothes and blankets from the United States government. But, best of all, the Union soldiers learned that exchanges were arranged, and they were scheduled to leave for Richmond and a trip home. They arrived in Richmond “wild with excitement and delight, and too happy to sleep.” However, when he and his mates arrived in Richmond they learned that the exchange had been cancelled, and all were sent to Libby Prison.[29]


            Another Libby inmate, Frederick F. Cavada, recorded his incarceration on the margins of newspapers and other scrap paper that he smuggled north. These reflections were then published in 1865. He described Libby this way:


The room we are in is long, low, dingy, gloomy, and suffocating. Some two hundred officers lying packed in rows along the floor…. Now for Libby itself. It stands close by the Lynchburg canal, and in full view from the river. It is a capacious warehouse, built of brick and roofed with tin…. There is a signboard at an angle of the building, whereon you might have read in black letters on a white ground: “Libby & Sons, Ship Chandlers and Grocers.”… There is something about it indicative of the grave, and indeed, it is a sort of unnatural tomb, whose pale, wan habitants gaze vacantly out through the barred windows on the passer-by, as if they were peering from the mysterious precincts of another world.[30]


            Although imprisoned a year earlier, Shurtleff would certainly have approved of this description. He said that the time he spent at Libby was, “in many respects the most trying period of my prison life.” Not only was he crushed by the cancellation of the exchange, but Shurtleff also described a surliness and anger from the guards that he found shocking. They were callous and indifferent to the suffering inside the prison, and allowed the Richmond populace to visit this Yankee zoo to scold and harass inmates. A failed escape attempt and the sound of cannon from the nearby army of McClellan only added to their despair. The death of one inmate particularly moved the captive Ohioan. A southern unionist had been jailed with the Union soldiers at Libby. When his daughter came to see him, the guards refused visitation. When the despairing father saw his daughter outside the prison from a second floor window, he threw himself through the glass and crashed to the street below. The guards pulled the girl away from her dying father, and left the broken man on the pavement to die alone. Shurtleff was most certainly pleased to be transferred to a prison in North Carolina.[31]    


            Salisbury was perhaps the easiest prison time for Shurtleff. Here he received several letters from home, and he also found time to study and play games. He wrote home that he was able to study Latin, Shakespeare, and scripture. He also spent time looking at works on the French Revolution and Napoleon. Visits by local clergy and time for prayer meetings meant that the captive’s religious opportunities increased. Although religious meetings and visits occurred at many prisons, only at Salisbury did they occur daily. Shurtleff found this particularly satisfying. Daily baseball games also eased his time. One play in particular pleased the inmate. In the final inning of a game, Shurtleff’s team was winning by one run. A long fly ball was hit toward the Captain in right field, but in order to catch it and win the game, he was forced to cross the ‘dead line,’ the demarcation between the prison yard and escape. In that instant he had to decide if he would cross the line, with the very real risk of being shot, or let the ball drop harmlessly to the ground giving advantage to the other team. He opted to make the catch because he was fairly certain the guard on duty that day would not shoot. They won the game. The joy of baseball was, however, reserved for the officers only. Private soldiers were kept cooped up in a factory building on the prison grounds, and they died in great numbers. Corpses were removed by cart every morning. In August of 1862 word of their exchange reached the captives at Salisbury and they rejoiced. [32]


            This time the exchange occurred. Their captors transferred Shurtleff and the others once again to Richmond, and released them. He boarded a “truce boat on the James River and saw the stars and stripes waving over our heads.” Once on board, the freed soldiers took offer their hats and sang a hymn. Captain Giles W. Shurtleff returned to Oberlin in August 1862. A large crowd came to welcome him home, and cheered him again and again. Local dignitaries spoke briefly before a pale and thinner Shurtleff addressed the gathering. After his long imprisonment he was given a thirty-day furlough before the Army required he return to duty.[33]


            When Shurtleff returned to active duty he maintained his rank and standing as Captain in the 7th OVI. He did not, however, rejoin the 7th, which had seen much action during Shurtleff’s absence. His own Company C was devastated at the battle of Cedar Mountain. The entire 7th fought during the morning phase of the battle of Antietam. Instead, Shurtleff reported to the staff of General O.B. Wilcox. Shurtleff and Wilcox shared a great deal of prison time together. Although neither man mentions the other in their prison recollections, it is clear that they were in Castle Pinckney, Columbia, Libby, and Salisbury prisons at the same time. They were both exchanged in Richmond at the same time. Upon his release, Colonel Wilcox met with both General McClellan and President Lincoln, and was promoted to Brigadier General. He was with the Army of the Potomac in time to fight at Antietam. It was after the struggle at Antietam that Shurtleff assumed duties as an aide to General Wilcox of General Burnside’s 9th Corps. In his memoir Shurtleff called it “Burnsides famous corps.” The mood of the army, Shurtleff reported was high. They had supplies, training, and a recent victory over the Confederates in Maryland. All anticipated a move against Lee. Lincoln was pushing McClellan to move against the Confederate leader. That movement never came. Instead the Army of the Potomac made a series of moves that, although carried out extremely well, were clearly designed to avoid attacking Lee’s army. This reluctance to fight resulted in McClellan’s removal and Burnside was given command of the Army. Wilcox got the 9th Corps. At the helm of the Army of the Potomac the new general led his troops to arguably their greatest disaster, Fredericksburg. [34]


            The scope of the defeat Burnside and the Army of the Potomac suffered in Virginia crowded out any fame his corps achieved at Antietam. During the battle Union soldiers marched gallantly, if vainly, into the maw of the Confederate guns atop Mayre’s Heights, and after being repulsed time and again, Lee turned to his trusted Lieutenant, James Longstreet and said, “It is well that war is so terrible-we should grow too fond of it!” Finally Burnside, realizing the scope of the defeat, decided to lead a final desperate charge against the fortified Southern position, but was talked out of it by his subordinates. Wilcox and the 9th Corps were close to the action. After crossing the Rappahannock River on long delayed pontoons, the 9th Corps was placed at the center of the Union line, in between the 2nd Corps on the right and the 1st and 6th Corps on the left. The 5th Corps was held in reserve on the opposite side of the Rappahannock River. The coordinated attack of two grand divisions that Burnside had hoped for did not occur. Problems between Generals Hooker and Wilcox compounded Union problems, and further disjointed the assaults on Mayre’s Heights and the stonewall. Historian Francis Augustin O’Reilly levels particularly harsh criticism on Wilcox saying he not only performed badly at Fredericksburg, but was also drunk. Meanwhile, in arguing that Burnside’s plan was more nearly achieved than many presume, and that Burnside is unduly vilified in the aftermath, William Marvel points out that Wilcox signaled that he had carried Mayre’s Heights. In any event, the losses for the Wilcox and the 9th Corps were significant. The 9th suffered 1,330 casualties from a force of 13,578. [35]


            The 9th Corps’ commander blamed Burnside for the defeat. General Wilcox quickly disassociated himself from his old West Point friend’s strategy. When the battle was over, Wilcox was quick to write his family that he never believed the plan would work, and was instrumental in talking Burnside out of a final assault the last day. Shurtleff also believed the plan to be foolhardy, but he did have a front row seat. After riding with Generals Burnside, Sumner, Wilcox and others, the Ohio Captain was well aware of the plan of battle, and was assigned to be a spotter in the early stages of the attack. He described the beginning of the battle


They moved out of the city in a dense fog at 11a.m. and started across the green field in splendid order. On they marched without faultering in the midst of a terrific fire of artillery that enfiladed them more and more as they advanced. Still they pushed on towards the Heights till just at its base they struck a heavy stonewall, four feet high, behind which was a rebel brigade….


Shurtleff then reported to Wilcox that the stonewall could not be carried. Although never personally involved in any of the charges, the drama of Fredericksburg came close to Shurtleff when he was ordered to carry messages from General Wilcox to commanders on the field. While meeting with General Hooker, Shurtleff said, “The rattle of Minnie bullets on the fence, the dead thug as they struck a man or beast, and the particular mixture of hum and hiss as they fly through the air near one’s ears, made the spot a very undesirable one.” Later while talking to General Franklin he saw General Bayard shot in the head and killed. He also received word from Wilcox that Burnside had decided to lead a final charge at the head of the 9th, but was dissuaded from this folly. Shurtleff wrote in his memoir that “the whole day was a day of horror for me.” The only thing left for the Union army to do was withdraw back across their pontoon bridge. This was accomplished “in a drizzling rain and a blinding fog.” Shurtleff was posted at the pontoons, to help keep order as the Union forces quietly retreated. He remembers being one of the last across the Rappahannock, with Rebel skirmishers firing as he crossed. [36]


            Following his honorable discharge on March 18, 1863, Shurlteff headed home to Oberlin. His discharge from the services was described by the Lorain County News, as being caused from “an affection of the lungs which incapacitated him for active duty.” In an April 2nd letter of 1863 he described some of his health problems to his future wife Mary Burton, and described his hospitalization in Baltimore. He reported an inability to breathe, a general irritation in the lungs, excessive coughing and great fatigue. A doctor in the hospital in Baltimore suggested that he was suffering from small pox. Shurtleff agreed with the diagnosis, and explained that a severe rash covered much of his body. Shurtleff assured Mary in the letter that he had recovered fully, and that the disease was a “blessing in disguise,” and hastened his returning home. Shurtleff’s illness may not have been confined to small pox. In a 1904 autopsy Dr. R.H. Cowley of Lorain described Shurtleff’s left long as clearly tubercular. The Oberlinian suffered breathing problems for the rest of his life. We may never know the extent of Shurtleff’s afflictions, but the medical personnel of the day thought them severe enough to order him home. In June of 1863 he, along with others from the original Company C of the 7th OVI returned to Oberlin. In his future lay another challenging command. [37]


            During the months that Shurtleff observed the carnage at Fredericksburg and then convalesced in Baltimore, John Mercer Langston industriously recruited Ohio men for the Union Army. Langston was one of Oberlin College’s most prominent black graduates. By the time of the Civil War, Langston had passed the bar examination in Ohio and was the first African-American lawyer in Ohio. After the war he went on to elective offices in both Ohio and Virginia, and tried cases before the United States Supreme Court. He also founded the law school at Howard University and served as its first Dean. Early in the war, Langston contacted Governor William Dennison, Jr., to see about raising a regiment of black troops in Ohio. The governor refused. When Governor David Tod replaced Dennison, Langston was back in Columbus pleading the case for black soldiers, or failing that, the use of black prison guards at Ohio’s prison camps: Camp Chase in Columbus and Johnson’s Island in Sandusky Bay. The authorities in Columbus turned him down. But, after Governor Tod saw the success of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments, he prevailed upon Langston to help recruit an Ohio unit.


            Langston was the logical choice. He had been key in enlisting over 900 Ohio African Americans for enlistment in the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. Langston also encouraged Shurtleff to apply for the Colonelcy of the 127th Ohio Volunteers. Shurtleff had suggested that he might re-enter the military should his health recover sufficiently, but he was nearing the completion of his degree in Theology, and was anxious to begin life as a full-time preacher. He began conversations with officials in Columbus and with the Governor to see if his future might be in the military instead of religion. The process was laborious, involved a War Department examination and political lobbying. At times Shurtleff was disgusted. Still, he recognized the political realities and seemed to understand that he was not going to receive the top post in the new regiment. He wrote to Mary Burton that he anticipated an appointment, either as Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel and added, “I prefer on many accounts to go as Lieut. Col. The responsibility of commanding such a regiment seems too great. I shrink from it.” Shurtleff got his wish. [38]


            Governor Tod wanted someone else for the top post. First he tried to appoint Lewis McCoy, a well-liked captain. But McCoy’s War Department examination scores were lower than several other men. McCoy was offered a Captaincy in the regiment, but he declined it. Tod then turned to a staff aid to General Jacob Cox, James Conine. Conine’s scores were satisfactory, and he won the Colonel’s commission. Shurtleff was named second in command, the regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel.[39]


            Although Shurtleff’s wartime reminiscences moved immediately to the trenches outside Petersburg in 1864, much had to be accomplished before the 127th OVI, renamed the 5th United States Colored Troops (USCT), could be used on the front lines. The regiment had to be trained. Training for the 5th USCT took place at Camp Delaware, north of Columbus. Shurtleff and the other white officers drilled the 5th a great deal, though swearing amongst the officer corps often concerned the Oberlinian most. By the end of the summer, after struggling to become fully staffed and equipped the 5th USCT was ready to move into the fighting. [40]


            Washington posted them first at Norfolk, Virginia. Here Shurtleff learned first hand the kinds of problems that many black regiments faced. There were struggles with white regiments. The 5th bivouacked with the 7th New York Artillery Battery in late 1863. The New Yorkers refused to take orders from Shurtleff and other USCT officers. Although all commissioned officers were by regulation white, regardless of their unit, the New Yorkers looked down upon the officers of the 5th. Local commanding General Wild was compelled to order the 7th NY’s officers and men to follow orders from the 5th’s senior officers. Next the unit had difficulties staying fully staffed both among the fighting men and the commissioned officers. Death, disease, and desertion plagued all regiments in the Civil War, but manpower problems were exaggerated for the Colored Troops regiments, as they were unable to draw upon their enlisted personnel for promotions. Black regiments from the north also found the influx of freed slaves, or contraband, a serious culture shock. Finally, they had to battle with the pay inequities that the federal government imposed. Under political pressure, pay to black soldiers was reduced from the regular army wage of $13.00 per month to $10.00 per month. From that lower amount a $3.00 clothing allowance was removed. The pay inequity was even greater for non commissioned officers; a white Sergeant was paid $17.00 to the black Sergeant’s $7.00. Likewise, a white First Sergeant was paid $20.00 to the USCT First Sergeant’s $7.00. This diminished pay also affected black families at home who were counting on money coming from their family members in the service. Not until June of 1864 did Congress promise to pay black soldiers at a rate equal to their white counterparts, but the issue of back pay proved problematic. Only in late 1865 were all black soldiers guaranteed the full army wage and back pay.[41]


            While the debate over equal pay raged nationally, the 5th USCT moved about eastern Virginia. From Norfolk the unit was moved to Yorktown. While in Yorktown they took part in some inconsequential and generally unsuccessful raids. Next they were posted to guard a rail line from Confederate cavalry. No attacks ever took place and the regiment was brought back to Yorktown. From Yorktown they were sent immediately to Richmond to aid in an attack on Confederate infantry. Poor coordination between white US cavalry and black US infantry meant that the 5th did very little actual fighting. They did manage to capture some Confederate prisoners. The unit was soon part of the massive army in the trenches outside of Petersburg. Though the 5th had yet to see serious action, Shurtleff was pleased with the tenacity his boys showed while on picket duty. Then he and the 5th had front row seats for the Battle of the Crater. [42]


            In late July, Shurtleff learned that a great mine had been dug under the Confederate works, and tons of explosives set beneath them. After detonation Union forces would pour into the breech. General Burnside posted Shurtleff and the 5th in direct view of the explosion so that they could add supporting fire for the attacking Union troops. The explosives in the mine were slated for detonation in the early hours of the morning, but because of a problem with the fuse, the detonation did not occur until nearly 5:00am. Shurtleff remembers seeing, “a huge mass of earth rise 200 feet in the air, pause an instant, and come crashing down.” Initially everything seemed to be going according to plan. The 5th was ready to begin pouring supporting fire in when some Union artillery from behind began to burst in their ranks. They lost fourteen men before the deadly barrage stopped.[43]


            Things began to go badly for the attacking union forces as well. Shurtleff watched a potential union victory turn into a terrible rout. Initially confused Confederate troops dashed from the blast site as quickly as possible, but they recovered their composure and their positions before any meaningful Union attack began. When the Union troops did advance, they were disorganized and unprepared. In short order, and in the 100 degree heat, Confederate forces on the rim of the crater used the trapped Union soldiers as virtual target practice. Sharp shooters made fast work of the wounded who tried to crawl out. Shurtleff lamented the lost Union opportunity, “The mine was a perfect success, but the attack was managed with unspeakable stupidity….This was the only instance in my war experience when I wanted to be ordered into a fight.”[44]


            After the crater, Shurtleff and the 5th USCT settled down to life in the trenches. The 5th’s life in the growing network of earthworks outside of Richmond and Petersburg in July 1864 featured rotation. Shurtleff’s subordinate Lieutenant Elliott F. Grabill of Company G told readers of the Lorain County News that the regiment served in forty-eight hour shifts. At the end of their two days, they were replaced by the 22nd USCT, and they took the next duty. He described the trenches as a confusing array of lines that seem to wildly change direction. Behind the trenches, earthworks were built high enough that soldiers could walk free from fear of enemy sharpshooters. Where possible the men used old railroad ties or fence planking to create makeshift roofs. These ramshackle ceilings provided a little shelter from the sun and from shrapnel, but were impediments when soldiers needed to exit the trenches quickly. Carelessness in the trenches was often fatal. One officer of the 5th stepped briefly into view as his troops were being relieved. He was shot in the thigh and bowels, and died a few hours later. Life on the banks of the Appomattox River, the location of the 5th at that time, had become a deadly routine. Soldiers learned to accept the constant possibility of artillery, and paid little attention to shells that dropped near their location. It was not uncommon for a soldier to brush the debris away from an explosion, and continue his meal. By the end of July, their nearly underground life evolved into a brutal, difficult and monotonous existence. Time on the line was no longer restricted to a couple of days at a time. Units were posted for a couple of weeks without rest, and often the 5th was used for fatigue duty, or labor details, under the cover of nightfall. Lieutenant Grabill lamented that night duty meant, “day-rest under a southern sun.” Mortars, shells, and bullets also interrupted the entrenched soldiers.[45]


            As the summer wore on Lieutenant Colonel Shurtleff felt not only the heat of the sun but also the burden of responsibility when Colonel Conine left the regiment because of health problems. A strained groin sidelined the Conine, and by the end of August he resigned from the service all together. Any of Shurtleff’s excitement at his increased responsibility was tempered by the reality of trench life. On the 22nd of August, Shurtleff wrote his fiancée Mary Burton and explained that his life was a mixture of trenches, bullets, and shelling; each of which is to be feared. He apologized for any disjointedness she might sense in the letter, as he was constantly interrupted by orderlies needing something and by shells spitting their debris upon him. Writing of love and the future under these conditions was impossible, he told her. A little more than a month later battle replaced the tedium and discomfort of the trenches for Shurtleff and his new command. [46]


            On September 28, 1864, Shurtleff received full command of the 5th, and the next day his regiment, along with two others, was ordered to take a rebel fortification called New Market Heights. The purpose of the attack was to take advantage of Lee’s growing weakness outside of Petersburg as he was forced to stretch his lines further and further. Earlier in September, General Sheridan had successfully cut the rail links between Petersburg and Richmond, forcing Lee’s continued defensive reorganizations. In preparation for the battle Shurtleff readied for a pre dawn attack. His men took with them forty rounds of ammunition and three days rations. At 3:00 am his men were ready. The new commander addressed his men and told them that much was at stake in the coming battle. “If you are brave,” he entreated, “the stigma of diminished pay must be removed. And the greater stigma of denying you full and equal rights of citizenship shall also be swept away….” They enjoyed a final cup of coffee and “the first streaks of dawn” as they awaited the orders to advance. [47]


            Two other regiments of colored troops, the 4th and the 6th, made the first assault on New Market Heights, but failed and were forced to retreat. Shurtleff’s brigade commander, Colonel Draper, placed their three USCT regiments in a column with the 5th at their head, followed by the 36th and the 38th. They were ordered to attack, and the fifth moved out at the double quick and into heavy enemy artillery fire. Shurtleff recalled that about half way to the enemy’s perch, they were assaulted by both confederate bullets and belittlement, as southern men taunted, “Come on you smoked Yankees, we want your guns.”[48]


When the 5th reached the base of the heights, they ran into debris, abatis and dense underbrush. The defenders fired more heavily at them. The way seemed impassible, and Shurtleff ordered his men down on the ground as they attempted to clear a path through the obstacles. While ordering his troops to take some cover, a ricocheting bullet struck and lodged in his right hand. Undeterred, the brand new commander verified that his orders to take the heights were still in force. When he learned they were, he ordered his men to charge the rebel works. While exhorting his troops and waving his sword toward the enemy, a second bullet ripped through his right thigh and he went down. Shurtleff regained consciousness in time to see his men carrying the works, while he lay in a field thick with the dead and wounded. Colonel Draper commended Shurtleff’s courage to his commander, General Butler, noting that he continued to lead his troops “though repeatedly wounded.”[49]


            Shurtleff’s subordinate and friend, Lieutenant Ulysses L. Marvin of Company I, described the scene years later at the Shurtleff statue unveiling. Rather than depend upon his own memory, he used General Benjamin Butler’s accounting of the battle.


The column marched … as steadily as if on parade. At once when it came in sight the enemy opened upon it, but at that distance there was not much effect.


Crossing the brook their lines broke in a little disorder…but the men struggled through holding their guns above their heads to keep them dry. The enemy directed its fire upon them…. The leading battalion broke, but its colonel (Colonel Shurtleff) maintained his position at its head. Words of command were useless, as in the melee they could not be heard; but calling his bugler to him the rally rang out, and at its call his men formed around him. The division … reformed, and at double quick they dashed up to the first line of abates. The axmen laid to, vigorously chopping out the obstructions. Many of them went down. Others seized the axes. The enemy concentrated their fire upon the head of the column. It looked in one moment as if it might melt away. The colors of the first battalion went down, but instantly they were up again with new color bearers. Wonderfully they managed to brush aside the abates, and then at the double quick the reformed column charged the second line of abates… Then with a cheer and a yell that I can almost hear now, they dashed upon the fort.[50]


            The 5th triumphed. The 5th USCT and the two supporting regiments carried New Market Heights, and did not stop advancing for several miles. After losing Shurtleff, nearly all of the other officers of the 5th fell, and the soldiers advanced on their own initiative. Four sergeants of the regiment took defacto command and continued to lead the Union assault. They were rewarded with Congressional Medals of Honor. Confederate lines were drawn back as a result of this and other coordinated attacks that day. General Butler promoted Shurtleff to full Colonel, and granted him a twenty-day leave to recover from his wounds.[51]


            Shurtleff used this time to do more than simply recover from his wounds. He returned to Oberlin and wed Mary Burton. Thanks to an additional leave Shurtleff and his betrothed were married in the bride’s hometown of Austinburg, Ohio on the November 23, 1864. As Lieutenant Marvin pointed out, this could have been an easy exit point from the war for Giles Shurtleff, but the newly promoted Colonel returned to his troops, even if it meant leading them on crutches. Shurtleff and the 5th USCT journeyed to North Carolina.[52]


            While in North Carolina, the 5th played a part in Butler’s bumbling attempt to take Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Fort Fisher was a massive structure made of sand and sod, designed to absorb artillery like so many punches into a pillow. The design worked, and for much of the war Fort Fisher protected blockade-runners and kept North Carolina a key source of Confederate supply. Butler’s plan was an intriguing variation on the Petersburg crater strategy. He had a 295-ton barge loaded with dynamite floated up to the fort and detonated. However, unlike the mine at Petersburg, the barge caused little damage to the fort, and Butler deemed that any infantry follow up would be futile, so he called off the attack. The decision cost Butler his command. After suffering nothing more than a dousing from the wave created by the explosion, Shurtleff and other officers of the 5th were amazed at Butler’s decision to withdraw before Fort Fisher, but the regiment suffered no losses that day. Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant replaced Butler with General Alfred Terry, who drew up a strategy for the capture of Fort Fisher that succeeded. Shurtleff and the 5th USCT, however, served only a supporting role in this action, and the unit never saw serious action again.[53]


            During the final months of the war, the 5th spent its time foraging for supplies and moving about North Carolina. Shurtleff forbade wanton destruction when they resupplied, and insisted that his soldiers only take what the civilians could spare. He was appalled at the scavenging he saw from General Sherman’s veterans. Realizing that the war was won, the Colonel decided to return home. Before he made the trip back to Oberlin and to his new bride, the army brevetted Shurtleff a Brigadier General for “gallant and meritorious services,” an honorary title that bore no pay or real authority, and on June 12, 1865, he was honorably discharged and received back pay in the amount of $1,112.74, and went home.[54]


            Giles and Mary Shurtleff were free to begin an Oberlin life together. The college named Shurtleff a Professor of Latin Language and Literature, a post that he held for the next twelve years. During that time he not only taught his lessons, but began to study and lecture on a wide variety of topics. Shurtleff lectured on subjects as diverse as temperance, the French Revolution, and indigenous plant life in Lorain County. The talks that he gave were, as a rule, quite formal as the General (as Shurtleff was known) valued propriety. He was a life-long temperance man, and encouraged decorum at all times. In his regiment he was able, by virtue of his rank, to curtail the amount of foul language uttered by his subordinates. He found college students more challenging. In one widely reported lecture in 1884 he lamented slovenly students who whistled incessantly, with the effect of concertizing to a public who had no choice but to listen. He quickly pointed out that he did not object to whistling in and of itself, rather he encouraged moderation. In the same lecture he also decried the practice of students playing catch anywhere and everywhere. This speech also had a very serious message to the young men and women of Oberlin. As the racism of Jim Crow, gained prominence in Ohio and the rest of the country, Oberlin was not spared. Growing practices of segregation on the campus and especially in the cafeterias of Oberlin grieved Professor Shurtleff. He implored students to remember the traditions of their college and to treat all students with respect and equality.[55]


            He also displayed a financial acumen that benefited the college. In 1867 the theological school was struggling. Some in the administration talked of ending all religious aspects of Oberlin’s curriculum. Shurtleff vigorously objected to the proposal. He claimed that money should not be problematic, and asserted that $10,000 likely could be raised in Lorain County alone. The school’s administration challenged him to find it and he did. This prompted the college to send him on fund raising trips to New York, Boston, and Hartford. He was credited with accumulating several important additions to the college’s permanent fund. The college recognized his financial abilities in 1887 when Shurtleff was named Treasurer of the college. He held the post for seven years. When he retired, the board of trustees said that Shurtleff’s “happy influence” on finances had doubled the college fund.[56]


            Twice during his professorial days he traveled to Europe for extended study. His first trip, in 1882, was primarily to Italy, where he stayed five months. In 1886 he traveled in northern Europe, and remained there for nearly a year. While abroad he studied many aspects of both art and literature, and regularly wrote home about his journey.[57]


            The general and his wife had two children, Laura and Mary, each of whom attended Oberlin. The growing family was never at a loss for fine accommodations. During his Oberlin years Shurtleff built three houses, two of which are standing today. In 1866, perhaps using his substantial back pay money, he had a red brick Italianate villa built in a residential neighborhood called College Place. In 1870 he sold the home to James Monroe, the Oberlin professor and successful politician that inspired Company C’s name, the Monroe Rifles. He then built a second Italianate house on Elm Street and lived there until 1892 when he hired architects to design and build a large wooden home on the former site of Oberlin’s original cemetery, overlooking Plum Creek. The Shurtleff Cottage, as it came to be known, featured the popular Victorian shingle style, and was the family’s final home.[58]


            As the century turned, Giles Shurtleff entered his seventh decade of life. His health began to fail. He had retired from the Treasurer’s post in 1894 and had spent time working as an independent investment broker and giving talks to local groups. Still, pain from his war wound worsened, and his breathing became more labored. He and Mary still had college students living on the third floor of the cottage, and their youngest daughter, Mary, lived with them on the first two floors. In 1904, Shurtleff’s nagging illnesses became serious and on May 6th he died.[59]


            In 1911, sculptress Emily Peck’s statue of Shurtleff was placed in front of the cottage, on South Professor St. The statue was modified from the artist’s original plans. It lacked the figure of the black man accepting a rifle and the responsibility of freedom from the General. In the hand that would have held the gun was placed instead a rolled paper, perhaps a map. The life size effigy was not imposing, as Shurtleff rose only to about five feet nine inches, and weighed less than 150 pounds. Over time the statue became a target for vandals. In 1946 the editors of the Oberlin News Tribune lamented the General’s fate, and in return received a letter from an Oberlin alum who lived on the third floor of the Shurtleff Cottage with two other students in the final years of Shurtleff’s life. Karl Gehrkens, like his landlord, arrived in Oberlin during the middle of winter break with little money, and a need to find work so that he could pay for his education. Shurtleff allowed him to work off his room and board at the Cottage, which he did by grooming the General’s horse, and accompanying Shurtleff on rides throughout the county looking for interesting flora. Gehrkens remembered the old gentleman to be kind, but irascible, “he wanted things to be just so, and did not hesitate to ‘give me hell’ if I did not groom the horse perfectly…or if I slighted my work in any way.” Gehrkens, writing the News Tribune when he himself was an old man, said that he was perfectly happy not being a modern student with the leisure to decorate the general’s statue – for he had the chance to know the man, and that was the better bargain.[60]

            [1] Laura Shurtleff-Price to M. Swetland, 13 November, 1950, excerpt, Alumni Records, Former Faculty and Staff, Shurtleff, Giles W. folder, box 120, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [2] “Statue of General Shurtleff by Mrs. Peck Placed on Exhibition in Spear Library,” Oberlin News, September 1987, clipping, Alumni Records, Former Faculty and Staff, Shurtleff, Giles W. folder, box 120, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [3] A.A. Wright, eulogy reprinted in “Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff,” Oberlin Review, 10 May, 1904, 664-665. Alumni Records Office folder, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio

            [4] “Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff,” 1.

            [5] Ibid.

            [6]Robert Samuel Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College: From Its Foundation through the Civil War (New York: Arno Press & New York Times, 1971), 688; Catherine M. Rokicky, James Monroe: Oberlin’s Christian Statesman and Reformer, 1821 – 1898., (Kent, The Kent State University Press, 2002),. 9 – 11; Nat Brandt, The Town That Started the Civil War (Syracuse University Press, 1990), 2-4, 44.

            [7] E.H. Fairchild, Historical Sketch, Oberlin College, (Springfield: Republic Printing Co., 1868), 9, 11.

            [8] Wright, “Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff,” 1; Fairchild., 23 and Fletcher, Chapter V.

            [9] Giles W. Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, Shurtleff Papers, Writings on the Civil War, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio, 4, 5; For a complete study of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, see Nat Brandt, The Town that Started the Civil War (Syracuse University Press, 1990).

            [10] Wright, “Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff,” 1.

            [11] Fletcher, 843.

            [12] Lorain County News, “The Monroe Rifles,” 1 May, 1861, page 2, column 5; Fairchild., 22. Rokicky, 24-26, xi-ix, 95.

            [13] Lorain County News, “The Monroe Rifles,” Shurtleff, Reminiscences, 6-7.

            [14] Shurtleff, Reminiscences, 7.

            [15] Lorain County News, “The Monroe Rifles,” Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Janet B. Hewet, ed., (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co, 1997), 34-35; Timothy J. Mieyal, A Study of Valor: The Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, (MA Thesis, Kent State University, 1998), 10, 16, 19; J. Jeffery Aufr, The Governors of Ohio, 2nd Edition, (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1962) published by the OHS on their web site,

            [16] Mieyal, 21, 26, 33; G. W. Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, from Sketches of War History 1861 – 1865, W.H. Chamberlain, ed., prepared for the Ohio Cammandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1896) Reprinted by Broadfoot Publishing Company, 390; Rokicky, 68; Lorain County News, “Recruiting”, 5 June, 1861, page 2, column 4.

            [17] See for example James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 299-304.

            [18] Mieyal, 49-53.

            [19] Mieyal. 53, 55-65; See also, General Rosecrans’ Report of the “Action at Cross-Lanes, near Summersville, W.Va.” The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I – Volume V., (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1881) Reprinted by the National Historical Society, 1971. 118-119; Lorain County News, “From Chaplin of the Seventh,” 4 September 1861, page 2, columns 3-4.

            [20] Lorain County News, “From Capt. Shurtleff,” 14 May 1862, page 2, column 4.

[21] Lorain County News, “Sad News,” 28 August, 1861, page 2, column 1.

            [22] Lorain County News, “Capt. Shurtleff’s Experience,” 4 January 1862, page 4, columns 1 - 2.

            [23] Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 390; Lorain County News, “Capt. Shurtleff’s Experience.”

            [24] Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 391; Lorain County News, “Capt. Shurtleff’s Experience.”

            [25] Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, p. 391-393; Shurtleff’s description is more or less corroborated by William C. Harris, a Lieutenant from a California regiment who served there shortly after Shurtleff. See Prison-Life in the Tobacco Warehouse at Richmond by a Ball’s Bluff Prisoner, (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1862); Shurtleff also described his prison life more gently later in life. His MOLLUS memoir “A Year with the Rebels,” contains much less vitriol than the letters he smuggled north. This was not uncommon. See Frank L. Byrne, “A General Behind Bars: Neal Dow in Libby Prison,” in “Civil War Prisons,” ed., William B. Hesseltine (Kent State University Press: 1962), 60.

            [26] Castle Pinckney joined Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter as the three forts defending Charleston harbor before the war began. After secession, Secretary of War Floyd ordered Major Robert J. Anderson to both avoid conflict and defend himself to the last. Anderson determined the wisest course was to consolidate forces from all three forts into the largest, Fort Sumter. See J.G. Randall and David Herbert Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1969), 145-146; Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 394; Lorain County News, “Capt. Shurtleff’s Experience.”

            [27] Lorain County News, “Capt. Shurtleff’s Experience.”

            [28] Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 395-396.

            [29] Lorain County News, “A Cheering Word from Capt. Shurtleff,” 5 February 1862, page 2, column 2; Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 396-397.

            [30] F.F. Cavada, Libby Life: Experiences of A Prisoner of War in Richmond, VA., 1863-64, (J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1865) reissued with a new forward by Joseph John Jova (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985) p. 23-26.

            [31] Ibid., Shurtleff, A Year with the Rebels, 397-401.

            [32] Shurtleff, “A Year with the Rebels,” 405; Lorain County News, “From Capt. Shurtleff.”

            [33] Shurtleff, “A Year with the Rebels,” 408; Lorain County News, 27 August, 1862, page 2, column 2.

            [34] Mieyal, 142-164; Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, p. 12-13; In addition to Shurtleff, “A Year with the Rebels,” see Forgotten Valor, The Memoirs, Journals and Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Wilcox, Robert Garth Scott, ed., (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1999), Chapter 13 “Touring Southern Prisons.” Dates and prisons line up very closely, for example OB Wilcox also describes the Charleston fire of December 1861; Wilcox, Forgotten Valor, 346-349.

            [35] McPherson, 72; Wilcox, Forgotten Valor, p. 386. The 9th Corps was geographically in the center, Burnside considered it and the 2nd Corps the Right Grand Division. Francis Augustin O’Reilly, The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 502; William Marvel, “Making of a Myth: Ambrose E. Burnside and the Union High Command at Fredericksburg,” in The Fredericksburg Campaign, Decision on the Rappahannock, Gary W. Gallagher, ed., (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 20, 22-24; Edward J. Stackpole, Drama on the Rappahannock: The Fredericksburg Campaign, (Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publishing Co, 1957), 277,279.

            [36] Both Wilcox and Burnside graduated from West Point in 1847, See. Stackpole, 274-275; Wilcox, Forgotten Valor, 403-407; Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 16-19, 23, 25.

            [37] Handwritten special order – Honorable Discharge of Giles W. Shurtleff, Shurtleff Papers, Military Papers: 1861-1865, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio; Lorain County, News, “Capt. Shurtleff Discharged.” 8 April, 1863, page 3, column 2; Autopsy report of R.H. Cowley, M.D., Shurtleff Papers, Newspapers Clippings/Family History, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio; Lorain County News, “Oberlin.” 6 May, 1863, page 2, column 1

            [38] Versalle F. Washington, Eagles on Their Buttons: A Black Infantry Regiment in the Civil War (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 2-13, 21; Lorain County, News, “Capt. Shurtleff Discharged.” 8 April, 1863, page 3, column 2; Giles W. Shurtleff to Mary Burton, 29 July, 1863, GWS to Mary Burton, Shurtleff Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio. Several other letters from Shurtleff to his fiancé express similar sentiments.

[39] Washington, 19 -20.

            [40] Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 26-28; Washington, 28-29.

            [41] Washington, 28-29; Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army 1861 – 1865, (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1987), 192-195 Cornish is just one of many authors who deal with the subject of pay inequity, see chapter 10 of The Sable Arm.

            [42] Washington, 32 – 38, 42.

            [43] Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 28.

            [44] Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 31, 34.

            [45] Lorain County News, “From the 5th USCT,” 6 July, 1864, page 1, column 3, and Lorain County News, “From the 5th USCT,” 20 July, 1864, Page 1, column 3; Lorain County News, “From the Fifth U.S.C.T.,” 17 August, 1864, page 1, column 3.

            [46] Washington, 49. Giles W. Shurtleff to Mary Burton, August 22, 1864, Shurtleff Papers, GWS to Mary Burton, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [47] Washington, 49-51, 53; Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 36

            [48] Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862 – 1865, 284 – 291; Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 38.

            [49] Shurtleff, Reminiscences of Army Life, 38; Official Records, Series I, Volume 3, Part I., 820.

            [50] U.L. Marvin, Address at Oberlin, “Estimate of General G. W. Shurtleff as a Soldier, by a Comrade in Arms,” Oberlin Alumni Magazine, June, 1911, 321.

            [51] Trudeau, 288. Five Medals of Honor were also awarded to supporting soldiers in the 36th USCT and the 38th USCT; “Muster-in Roll, September 2, 1864” and “20 Day Leave” Giles W. Shurtleff, Shurtleff Papers, Military Papers: 1861-1865, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [52] “Extension of Leave, November 30, 1864,” Giles W. Shurtleff, Shurtleff Papers, Military Papers: 1861-1865, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio; Lorain County News, 30 November, 1864, page 2, column 5; Marvin, Address at Oberlin, 324, and Washington, p. 63.

            [53] McPherson, 819-821; Trudeau, 359-360; Shurtleff maintained a fondness for Butler until the end of his life. His War Reminiscence includes several instances where the General interceded on behalf of black troops. There is also a biography in manuscript form in the Shurtleff Papers at the Oberlin College Archives. Yet, as Washington points out (p.68) Shurtleff did believe Butler’s removal from command was best for the Union army. Washington, 70-73.

            [54] Washington, 72; “Brevet General Certificate” and “Honorable Discharge” Giles W. Shurtleff, Shurtleff Papers, Military Papers: 1861-1865, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [55] Wright, 665; See Misc. Writings, four folders, Shurtleff Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio. Jim Crow Laws were passed by many states and legalized the informal segregation that existed. Brandt, The Town the Started the Civil War, 262; Cally L. Waite’s Permission to Remain Among Us: Educations for Blacks in Oberlin, Ohio, 1880-1914.(Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 106.

            [56] Wright, 665.

            [57] See GWS to his wife, three folders: 1882 April – Aug.; 1886 July – Dec; 1886 Jan – May, Shurtleff Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

            [58] Geoffrey Blodgett, Oberlin Architecture College and Town (Oberlin College, 1985) p. 99, 147.

            [59] Oberlin Tribune, “Death Came” May 13, 1904, Page 1 Column 1.

            [60] Letter to the Editor, Oberlin News Tribune, 24 January 1946, Clippings/Family history folder, Shurtleff Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

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