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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1836

Vol. I

(Born Vt.)

John W. Phelps

(Ap'd Vt.)


John Wolcott Phelps: Born Nov. 13, 1813, Guilford, VT.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1832, to July 1, 1836, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Bvt. Second Lieut., 4th Artillery, July 1, 1836.

Second Lieut., 4th Artillery, July 28, 1836.

Served: in Operations in the Creek Nation, 1836; in the Florida War against the Seminole Indians, 1836‑38, being engaged in the Action of Locha-Hatchee, Jan. 24, 1838; in the Cherokee Nation, 1838, while transferring the Indians to the West; in garrison at Ft. Columbus, N. Y., 1838; in the Florida War, 1838‑39; in garrison at Ft. Columbus, N. Y.,

(First Lieut., 4th Artillery, July 7, 1838)

1839; at the Camp of Instruction near Trenton, N. J., 1839; on the Northern Frontier during Canada Border Disturbances, at Detroit, Mich., 1839‑40, — Ft. Mackinac, Mich., 1840, — Recruiting, 1840, — Ft. Mackinac, Mich., 1840‑41, — Ft. Brady, Mich., 1841, — and Buffalo, N. Y., 1842; in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va., 1842‑43, — Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1843‑44, — and Ft. Monroe, Va., 1844‑45; on Recruiting service, 1845‑46; in the War with Mexico, 1846‑48, being engaged in the Battle of Monterey, Sep. 21‑23, 1846, — Siege of Vera Cruz, Mar. 9‑29, 1847, — Battle of Cerro Gordo, Apr. 17‑18, 1847, — Battle of Contreras,

(Bvt. Captain, Aug. 20, 1847, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct
in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mex.: Declined)

Aug. 19‑20, 1847, — Battle of Molino del Rey, Sep. 8, 1847, — and Assault and Capture of the City of Mexico, Sep. 13‑14, 1847; in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va., 1848, — and Ft. McRee, Fla.,º 1848‑49; as Member of the Board to devise "a Complete System of Instruction for Siege, Garrison, Seacoast, and Mountain Artillery," July 27, 1849, to Sep. 1,

(Captain, 4th Artillery, Mar. 31, 1850)

1850; on frontier duty at Ft. Brown, Tex., 1851‑55, where he broke up a Filibustering Expedition, — March to San Antonio, Tex., 1855‑56, — and at Ft. Brown, Tex., 1856; as Member of Artillery Board at Ft. Monroe, Va., 1856‑57; and on frontier duty at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., 1857, — and on Utah Expedition, 1857‑59.

Resigned, Nov. 2, 1859.

Civil History. — Residence, Brattleborough, Vt., 1859‑61.

Military History. — Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding

(Colonel, 1st Vermont Volunteers, May 2, 1861)

States, 1861‑62: in taking possession of and holding Newport News, for the defense of Hampton Roads, Va., May 27 to Nov. 25, 1861, being

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, May 17, 1861)

engaged in several skirmishes; on Expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, Nov. 26 to Dec. 4, 1861, when he took military possession of Ship Island, Mis.; with Commodore Farragut's Fleet in forcing the opening of the Lower Mississippi, Apr., 1862, taking possession, with the naval forces, of Fts. Jackson and St. Philip, La., Apr. 28, 1862, — and of New Orleans, La., May 1, 1862; and in garrison at Camp Parapet, La., above New Orleans, May‑Aug., 1862, where he organized the first Negro Troops.​1

Resigned, Aug. 21, 1862.​a

Civil History. — Vice-President of the Vermont Historical Society, 1863‑85, — and of the Vermont Teachers' Association, 1865‑85. Candidate of the Anti-Mason Party for President of the United States, 1880. Author of numerous articles, on the Danger of Freemasonry; on  p647 African Colonization; and on Political, Scientific, and Educational subjects, 1853‑78. Translator of De La Hodde's "Secret Societies of France," 1864.

Died, Feb. 2, 1885, at Brattleborough, Vt.: Aged 72.

Buried, Christ Church Cemetery, Guilford, VT.

The Author's Note:

1 By an order of the Rebel government, dated Aug. 21, 1862, he was declared an Outlaw, for having "organized and armed negro slaves for military service against their masters, citizens of the Confederacy."

Thayer's Note:

a The entry in O. F. R. Waite's Vermont in the Great Rebellion (Claremont, N. H., 1869), pp259 ff., usefully fleshes out the Register:

 p259  General John Wolcott Phelps

In consideration of his character as a man, his having been a graduate of the United States military at West Point, and served as an officer in the regular army in the war with Mexico, John Wolcott Phelps, of Brattleboro', was commissioned by Governor Fairbanks, on the 2d of May, 1861, Colonel of the First Regiment Vermont Volunteers, sent out under the call of President Lincoln for seventy-five thousand volunteers for three months' service. He went to Fortress Monroe with the regiment, and was commander of the post. On the 27th of May, 1861, he was promoted to Brigadier General of United States Volunteers. He went on an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, in November, 1861, and took military possession of Ship Island, Miss.; was with Commodore Farragut's fleet in forcing the opening of the Lower Mississippi, in April, 1862, and with the naval force taking possession of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, La., April 28, 1862, and of New Orleans, La., May 1, 1862, and organized the first negro troops. He was stationed at Carrolton, seven miles from New Orleans, and his camp was literally thronged with black fugitives. General Phelps formed the men of suitable age into companies, and made a re­quisition on General  p260 Butler, who was in command of the Department, for arms for them, saying that, he desired to raise three regiments of Africans for the defense of the point where he was located, which was unhealthy, and his men were dying at the rate of two or three a day. General Butler directed him to employ the contrabands in and about the camp, in cutting down all the trees, &c., for the purpose of defense, and ordered the quartermaster to furnish axes and tents for the contrabands. General Phelps replied that he was willing to organize African regiments for the defense of the Government, but would not become the mere slave-driver, "having no qualification that way," and tendered his resignation, which General Butler refused to accept.

In August, 1862, General Phelps, with his reasons therefor, returned his commission to the President. Months afterwards, when circumstances compelled the Administration to adopt the very policy proposed by General Phelps, the President offered him a Major General's commission, which he would accept only on condition that it should bear date upon the day of his resignation. To this the President would not accede, as, while it would be only justice to General Phelps, it would be an implied censure of General Butler, whose conduct in the matter was approved by the Administration, though a change of policy became expedient and necessary afterwards.

 p261  By an order of the rebel government, dated August 21, 1862, General Phelps was declared an outlaw, for having "organized and armed negro slaves for military service against their masters, citizens of the Confederacy."

General Phelps was a most accomplished officer. By his constant thoughtfulness of the comfort of his men, and his peculiar mode of enforcing discipline, he was very much respected and beloved by his whole command. On resigning his commission he returned to Brattleboro', where he has since resided, enjoying the confidence and esteem of all who know him.

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