Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Calvin D. Mehaffey Papers, 1862-1863

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1997

Summary Information
Title: Calvin D. Mehaffey papers
Creator: Mehaffey, Mrs.
Inclusive dates: 1862-1863
Extent: 18 items
Abstract:
Calvin Mehaffey's letters to his (unnamed) mother document two periods of Mehaffey's Civil War service in the 1st U.S. infantry regiment. They especially provide coverage of parts of the Peninsular Campaign (March-June, 1862), as well as the period of time in which he was posted near Vicksburg, in the Teche Country, and in New Orleans (August-November, 1863).
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by James S. Schoff, 1974. M-1687.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

Typescripts for all letters except for those of April 12, April 21, and May 16, 1862 accompany the collection.

Preferred Citation:

Calvin D. Mehaffey Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Mehaffey, Calvin D., d. 1871

Rank : 2nd Lieutenant; 1st Lieutenant (1861 November 23); Captain (1864 November 26)

Regiment : United States. Army--Infantry Regiment, 1st (1815- )

Service : 1861 August 5-1870 December 31

Less than a month after the federal debacle at Bull Run, Calvin D. Mehaffey entered the regular army as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Infantry. The well-educated son of a prominent and politically progressive family from Lancaster, Pa., Mehaffey was valued by his superiors for his organizational skills, and only two weeks after enlisting, was called upon to serve on the staff of the new Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C., Andrew Porter. Mehaffey carried out the task of issuing military passes for the District, until March, 1862, when he was finally able to get out into the field.

Accompanying Porter's lean staff to the Peninsula, Mehaffey sensed victory in the air and a quick end to the war around every bend. Like many men in the Army of the Potomac, he was a stout McClellan man, convinced that the general's clever strategy and the near invincibility of the Army would result shortly in the fall of Richmond. With every event confirming him in his beliefs, Mehaffey -- a perceptive and intelligent man -- was blind to the logic behind the Confederate delaying action at Yorktown, and to the implications of their withdrawal from the city in April. He was even shocked by the litter of landmines ("torpedoes") left in the Confederate wake, expressing outrage at the ethical lapse, rather than admiration for the clever delaying tactic. Raised in a military culture that prized (but often overlooked) a concept of "honor," Mehaffey expressed his outrage:

"Where they are designed to kill a Division or Regt in their charge upon fortifications it is proper [to leave torpedoes], but when an army retreats, thereby acknowledging that they are afraid to fight and hides a few shells to kill the individual who treads on them, it is down right murder for the killing of one or a dozen of men in that manner does not in the least determine their victory or our defeat. If in so doing they could kill fifty thousand men it would be perfectly fair and not inconsistent with warfare, but to blow up a telegraph boy in the pursuit of his calling is both murderous & barbarous" (1862 May 11).

During the campaign, Mehaffey took on a wide range of duties within the purview of the Provost Marshal. As harbor master in May, he cruised the James River to secure traffic and confiscate any boats that might be used to convey Confederate spies. Later in the month and periodically thereafter, he oversaw the transport of prisoners of war, and frequently dealt on the fly with the organization of field hospitals and the transport of wounded. As busy as he was, his attitude gradually soured as the campaign wore on and casualties mounted, and turned against McClellan as his spirits settled into a slough of despond. After conducting a party of prisoners from Malvern Hill to New York in July, it is unclear what exactly became of Mehaffey, and what effect the replacement of both McClellan and Porter had on his status in the army. It appears, however, that he remained in a staff position with the Army of the Potomac where, in April, 1863, he was assigned as inspector of purveyors of supplies.

Mehaffey returns to view in August, 1863, when he was ordered to rejoin the 1st Infantry in Vicksburg, only to find that his regiment was preparing to move on. Within a few weeks of arriving in Vicksburg, the regiment was assigned to XIII Corps in Louisiana. Taking part in the relatively uneventful Teche Country operations in October, they reported with the Corps at New Orleans in November. Ironically, the city presented Mehaffey with one of his most personal confrontations with the war: the grave of his brother, Frank. Visiting Frank's grave filled Mehaffey with emotion, causing him to reflect not only on the costs of war, but the obligations of family to one another and to the dead, but interestingly, Frank was a victim of the Mexican War, not the Civil War, and his never-visited grave was thirteen years old. This experience may not have made Mehaffey more sensitive to the losses suffered by the citizens of New Orleans, but his sympathies were clearly aroused by the plight of a hotel owner in the city who had been plunged into a hand to mouth struggle following the death of nearly all of the men in the family at the hands of the federal army -- the same army to whom he was now renting rooms. Fascinated with the dynamic of conqueror and conquered, Mehaffey could not refrain from commenting upon the stridency of women in the city:

"The ladies have an eye single to dressing themselves in red, white & red. The ribbons & flowers of their bonnets all harmonize with those colors. The other night at the theatre a lady sitting near me was severely spending her fury on Yankee shoulders straps. It is a fine field for women who happen to be secesh to show their perverseness of character -- many of them are so poor as to be almost wretched and yet they flaunt their senseless spite as boldly as women fit for the mad-house.." (1863 November 24).

Mehaffey continued in the regular army for the remainder of the war and after, retiring on December 31, 1870. He died four weeks later on January 27, 1871.


Collection Scope and Content Note

Calvin Mehaffey's letters to his mother represent only a small percentage of a once voluminous correspondence. From the eighteen letters that survive, it seems clear that Mehaffey wrote home regularly. The collection documents two periods of Mehaffey's Civil War service, providing excellent coverage of parts of the Peninsular Campaign (March-June, 1862), as well as the period of time in which he was posted near Vicksburg, in the Teche Country, and in New Orleans (August-November, 1863). The remainder of Mehaffey's service is essentially undocumented.

Mehaffey's correspondence reflects the frenetic activities and experiences of a junior staff officer, shouldering administrative responsibility rather than muskets, and the letters provide a number of detailed, fleshed-out stories illustrating the duties and activities of staffers. Among the descriptive masterpieces in the collection is an outstanding account of Mehaffey patrolling the James, confiscating boats and securing supplies, and a novel-like account of the Teche country operations of October 1863. Although Mehaffey describes little in the way of military engagements in this letter, his stories of the local scenery, citizenry, and the movements of troops are engaging and important for conveying, if nothing else, a sense of the logistical demands confronting the federal army in the deep South. In other letters, his encounters with the brothers of George McClellan and ex-President John Tyler, and with the father of Ulysses S. Grant, provide unusual insights into those men.

Mehaffey's comments on Yorktown during the Peninsular Campaign are packed with details about the condition of the city after the Confederate departure and the response of federal officers. From a narrowly military perspective, the letter written in the wake of the Battle of Malvern Hill may be even more interesting. In it, Mehaffey provides a furious sketch of the confusion in federal forces after the battle, the pain of the wounded and the presence of shell shock among many of the survivors. His involvement in assisting in the organization of field hospitals and ferrying the wounded, and the palpable swing in mood from his previous admiration of McClellan to his dread at enduring the humiliation of retreat are equally noteworthy.

In a different vein, Mehaffey's position with the Provost Marshal put him in a unique position to see and comment upon the administration of military justice. Two letters are particularly valuable in documenting an incident in which a slave, Lightfoot, allegedly exacted revenge on the family of his slave master by tying them to a tree and raping the women. Tried and convicted, Lightfoot was himself tied to a tree overnight to await public execution. He escaped, however, setting in motion a full scale search.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Executions and executioners.
    • Horses.
    • Louisiana--Description and travel.
    • Peninsular Campaign, 1862.
    • Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.
    • United States. Provost Marshal General's Bureau.
    • Virginia--Description and travel.
    • Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1862.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   11, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Calvin D. Mehaffey papers,  1862 March 21-1863 November 24 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    African American rapists
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    Bible
    • 1862 March 21
    Brothers--Death
    • 1863 September 22
    Camps (Military)--Virginia
    • 1862 May 22
    • 1862 May 26
    Carbuncle
    • 1862 March 21
    Cemeteries--Louisiana
    • 1863 September 22
    Churches--Virginia
    • 1862 May 22
    Civilians--Louisiana--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1863 October 12
    • 1863 November 24
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1862 April 12
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    • 1862 August 15
    Confederate States of America. Army--Uniforms
    • 1862 May 26
    Courts martial and courts of inquiry
    • 1862 May 11
    Death
    • 1863 September 22
    Executions and executioners
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    Fortifications--Mississippi--Vicksburg
    • 1863 August 17
    Grant, Jesse Root
    • 1863 August 14
    • 1863 August 17
    Grant, Ulysses Simpson, 1822-1885
    • 1863 August 14
    Horses
    • 1862 April 12
    • 1862 May 20
    • 1862 May 22
    • 1863 November 24
    Hotels, taverns, etc.--Virginia
    • [1862 May]
    Indians of North America--Virginia
    • 1862 May 20
    Louisiana--Description and travel
    • 1863 October 12
    • 1863 November 24
    Malvern Hill, Va., Battle of, 1862
    • 1862 July 16
    Marches--Louisiana
    • 1863 October 12
    • 1863 November 24
    Marriage
    • 1862 April 12
    McClellan, Arthur
    • 1862 July 16
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885
    • 1862 July 16
    Memphis (Tenn.)--Description and travel
    • 1863 August 14
    Military ethics
    • 1862 May 11
    Mothers and sons
    • 1862 March 21
    New Orleans (La.)--Description and travel
    • 1863 November 24
    Pamunkey Indians
    • 1862 May 20
    Peninsular Campaign, 1862
    • 1862 March 21
    • 1862 April 12
    • 1862 April 21
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    • 1862 May 20
    • 1862 May 26
    • [1862 May]
    • 1862 June 28
    • 1862 July 16
    • 1862 August 15
    Pillage--Virginia
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    Plantations--Louisiana
    • 1863 October 12
    Porter, Andrew, 1820-1872
    • 1862 May 22
    • 1862 May 26
    Prisoners of War--Capture--Confederate States of America
    • 1862 May 11
    Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 26
    • 1863 November 24
    Rape
    • 1862 May 11
    Reporters and reporting
    • 1862 May 26
    Seven Days' Battles, 1862
    • 1862 June 28
    • 1862 July 16
    Slaves--Virginia
    • 1862 May 11
    Soldiers--Alabama
    • 1862 May 11
    Soldiers--Religious life
    • 1862 March 21
    Steamboat travel--Mississippi River
    • 1863 August 14
    Teche Country (La.), Expedition, 1863
    • 1863 October 12
    Tents
    • 1862 April 21
    Torpedoes
    • 1862 May 11
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    • 1862 July 16
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 July 16
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care
    • 1862 April 21
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 July 16
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Naval operations
    • 1862 May 20
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons
    • [1862 May]
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women
    • 1862 April 12
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 16
    • 1862 May 22
    • 1862 August 15
    • 1863 August 17
    • 1863 November 24
    United States. Army--Officers--Barracks and quarters
    • 1862 May 26
    United States. Army--Provost Marshal
    • passim
    United States. Army--Supplies and stores
    • 1862 July 16
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--Description and travel
    • 1863 August 17
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Siege, 1863
    • 1863 August 17
    Virginia--Description and travel
    • 1862 May 11
    • 1862 May 20
    • 1862 May 22
    War--Psychological aspects
    • 1862 July 16
    • 1863 November 24
    Washington, Martha, 1731-1802--Homes and haunts
    • 1862 May 20
    Weddings
    • 1863 August 17
    Williamsburg (Va.)--Description and travel
    • 1862 May 11
    Wounded soldiers
    • [1862 May]
    • 1862 July 16
    Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1862
    • 1862 April 12
    • 1862 May 11
    Zouaves
    • 1862 May 11