Category Archives: Southern Sympathzers

1862: Anonymous to Gov. Edwin Denison Morgan

The following curious letter was submitted anonymously to the Governor of New York making him aware of two individuals who might be southern sympathizers and therefore traitorous to the U. S. Government.

This letter was submitted anonymously but based upon the content and handwriting, my hunch is that it was written by a woman and submitted in this manner with the hope that it might be taken more seriously if they thought a man wrote it.

The first individual named was Samuel “Selden” Hetzel (1837-1897), the son of Capt. Abner Riviere Hetzel (1803-1847) and Margaret Phebe Jack (1815-1899). Margaret was the daughter of a planter in the West Indies and no doubt had a proclivity to lean south in her allegiance despite the fact that her husband had served as a Captain and the Assistant Quartermaster in the US Army during the Mexican War. He was posted primarily at Vera Cruz during the war but became ill and died in Louisville, Kentucky, before he could get home in July 1847.

A family history confirms that Selden received an appointment to West Point by virtue of a letter of recommendation by Gen. Winfield Scott in 1853 but was expelled for not responding promptly to orders and for “muttering” in the ranks. Jefferson Davis opposed the decision by Superintendent John G. Barnard but the decision stood. In 1856, Selden was reinstated to the Academy but he was finally discharged for similar offenses in February 1858. In a letter dated 8 June 1861 by Lt. Samuel S. Partridge of the 13th New York Infantry, Sam wrote his brother that that his cousin, “Sed Hetzel acted so disgracefully and abused Judge Selden’s generosity and hospitality to such an unbearable degree that the judge gave him $500 and a revolver and a new outfit and started him for Pikes Peak. The last heard of him was in a Hell at Denver City.” [“The Civil War: A Soldier’s Letters Home 1861-1863, page 14.]

Selden was not long in returning from Denver, however. In October 1861, he volunteered and was commissioned a Major in the 77th New York Infantry. Muster Rolls indicate he was discharged 15 May 1862 after tendering his resignation but he was curiously reinstated as the Major again on 3 July 1862. A newspaper article appearing in Rochester, N. Y. papers reported that Selden deserted at Yorktown. “He was a West Pointer, a very genial fellow, but a relative of Mr. Jeff Davis, ” according to the paper. It went on to say that “he was very bitter on Mr. Seward because he had prevented his promotion by having alleged that he was a ‘sympathiser.’ [Leavenworth Daily Conservative, May 17, 1862]

Another reference to Selden can be found in the letters by his cousin, Lt. Samuel S. Partridge of the 13th New York Volunteers. In a letter dated 16 June 1862, it was stated that Selden, the “late Major…had been dismissed [rather than resigned] from the service. His mother has secured the influence of Alf—Ely—Preston, King, Sherman and others to get him reinstated, but when discharged by order of A. Lincoln and G. B. McClellan, I don’t think they can do [much]. Poor Aunt Margaret, I’ve thought. All the while sick, and sometimes distressingly so; her only son always in trouble. She has cares enough to wear her out.”

The second individual suspected of being a southern sympathizer was Mary Gilliat (Gray) Harris, the wife of John Harris (1793-1864) who was the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Mary was the only daughter of William Gray, Esq., later her Britannic Majesty’s Consul for the State of Virginia, located at Norfolk, Virginia.


Addressed to the Hon. Governor Morgan, Albany
Postmarked Rochester, N. Y.

Western N. York
January 20th 1862

The Hon. Gov. Morgan
Dear Sir.

As there are so many traitors in our midst, loyalty to my country impels me to disclose to you the following facts. First, that Mr. Selden Hetzel who received at Albany some months since the commission of Major in the National Army, belongs to a strong secession family. He is the son of the late Capt. Hetzel of the United States Army who died in the service of his county during the Mexican War. His widow received through the influence of Jefferson Davis & the late General Jessup between $20 and $25,000 from the government in consideration of services rendered by her husband during that campaign. 1

The son was subsequently admitted to West Point, when after a short period he was expelled for insubordination. By the influence of friends, he was again received & a second time discharged upon the same ground. Consequently he is not a graduate of that institution.

It is the opinion of those who know Mr. Hetzel that pecuniary considerations were paramount to all others in the selection of his present vocation.

Mrs. Hetzel has long been a personal friend & correspondent of the Davis family even to the present time. Nor do they hesitate in presence of their friends to to avow their secession sympathies. The public journals have at various times stated that Mrs. Hetzel had been arrested at Washington but it was incorrect. Although a resident of Washington, she left there early last summer & has not yet returned.

Secondly, I would suggest that the lady of the officer at the head of the Marine Corps [John Harris] now residing at the barracks should not be overlooked by the investigating committee. Said officer is believed (to be by all who knew him intimately) perfectly loyal to his country. His lady is the daughter of the late British Consul long resident at Norfolk. I would recommend caution in this latter case and have ground for suspicion that all is not right in that department by some now holding commissions.

May I beg, Sir, that you will consider this communication as confidential. I have struggled long between duty & inclination having know the above parties many years, & independent of their secession sympathies, with but one exception, esteem them all—knowing that early associations have produced this unhappy result.

I leave it to your own judgement to make any use of the above facts as you may deem most judicious. Be assured they are reliable.

The present crisis requires every sacrifice for our country’s good & were it the case of my own child, I as a mother would feel justified in making the disclosure.

— A true friend to the country.

1 Among the Papers of Jefferson Davis: 1849-1852, it is reported that on June 17, 1850, Davis “supports bill for relief of Capt. Abner R. Hetzel’s widow, Margaret (Congressional Globe 31:1, 1237-38).” The claim was not actually a “widow’s pension” such as might have been awarded for service to the widows of fallen servicemen during the Civil War but for the legitimate claim of a commission (percentage of funds handled and disbursed) by the quartermaster in the 1830s during the Cherokee removal. Apparently this was done to dissuade such handlers of large sums of the government’s treasury from misappropriating funds. Hetzel’s widow claimed that the government still owed her husband approximately $12,000 from this period of time which had never been closed out prior to his death because he had never left military service. The claim was debated on the floor of the 31st Congress for some months because the practice of allowing this commission had ended in the intervening years.

1864: William R. Bennet to Joseph O. Jones

This letter was written by 43 year-old William R. Bennett (1821-1896) of Ascension (now Farmersburg), Curry township, Sullivan county, Indiana. William’s parents were Thomas Bennett (1797-1865) and Miranda Coffin (1803-1848). William was married in 1842 to Lucinda Terry (1824-1913) in Ripley County, Indiana.

I could find no image of William but here is a tintype from the period of a man that looks to be about his age. (Will Griffing Collection)

William wrote the letter in late September 1864 from his home in Sullivan county, Indiana, where he was most likely a member of the Home Guard. Some two weeks later he accepted a bounty to enter the service as a substitute in Co. E, 43rd Indiana Infantry. He was discharged at Terre Haute in mid-June 1865.

The letter was written to Joseph O. Jones who served as the post master at Terre Haute at the time. The content hints at the violence that prevailed in Sullivan and Clay counties during the Civil War caused by the strong presence of Southern sympathizers residing there—particularly in Eastern Clay county where the Knights of the Golden Circle factored prominently and who terrorized the loyalists.


Ascension, Sullivan county, Indiana
September 28th 1864

Mr. J. O. Jones
Dear Sir,

There is a good deal of uneasiness among the Union men here on account of the assemblage of the rebel sympathizers at Hooker’s Point in Clay County. 1 Reports are so conflicting that we can form no just conclusions. We are anxious to get information from Terre Haute daily until things are brought to a focus. Will you please get some reliable person to send a few lines to our post master (E. Hunter) every mail giving us any information that would be useful to us. If you should see Dr. Baldridge, he would write us about the news if requested. He will be likely to be about the Provost Marshal’s office.

Respectfully yours, — Wm. R. Bennett

1 Hooker’s Point was located on the Eel River in Clay county, Indiana. It was named for Lucius Hooker who built a watermill on the river about 1860. It was located about ten miles due east of Ascension (Farmersburg).

Tom Frew and Rose Gates reveal the remains of the flag that was given to Sullivan county’s Home Guard by Gov. Oliver P. Morton. “Sullivan County contained many Southern sympathizers and there was a strong presence of what was called the Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-Southern secret society that was the forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan,” said Frew, president of the Sullivan County Historical Society Inc.
“They shot down the flag and tore it to pieces. The main thing they sought to get rid of is the field of stars, which was the symbol of the union. They wanted a separate country of the confederate states,” Frew said. “To me, it is an example that you can’t destroy the United States. You can’t destroy the flag; it will hang on, just like this one,” Frew said. See Enduring Symbol: Torn, tattered Civil War-era flag.