Sale 988 — The Steven C. Walske Collection of Civil War Special Routes
Sale Date — Thursday, 27 May, 2010
Category — Flag-of-Truce Mail: Galveston-U.S. Blockading Squadron
VERY FINE APPEARANCE. AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE PRISONER-OF-WAR COVER FROM A UNION PRISONER AT THE HUNTSVILLE PENITENTIARY IN TEXAS, SENT VIA FLAG-OF-TRUCE THROUGH GALVESTON AND THE U.S. NAVAL BLCOKADING SQUADRON IN THE GULF.
Federal defeats in Texas in 1863 left a large number of U.S. prisoners in the Houston area. The only U.S. forces near these prisons were the naval ships blockading Galveston harbor. To facilitate the exchange of released prisoners and mail, a flag-of-truce route developed between C.S.A.-controlled Galveston and offshore U.S. naval ships of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. Outgoing letters were carried by U.S. naval ships to Old Point Comfort. They were then transmitted in closed mail bags from there to a distributing post office near the destination, typically Boston, Philadelphia or New York. If unfranked, they were marked "U.S. Ship" and 3c due at the distributing post office. If franked with 3c U.S. postage, they entered the mails at the distributing post office. Only a very small number of covers carried by this route are known, and they are all northbound inner envelopes from one of the three C.S.A. prisons in Texas.
As discussed in detail in the following lot, Captain A. N. Proctor sailed from New York with Company G of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry in late 1862 (probably after staying at the Brandreth House Hotel) and was captured on January 1, 1863, as his company was attempting to occupy Galveston. He was confined at Huntsville sometime between January and June 1863 and transferred to Camp Groce sometime prior to November. He subsequently was marched to Tyler and Camp Ford in December 1863 before he was finally exchanged. This cover has no date postmarks or docketing identifying the origin. Prisoner records suggest that it was mailed from Huntsville sometime between January and May 1863. Harrison did not identify this cover as originating at Huntsville Penitentiary, but illustrates it on page 65.
Illustrated in Special Routes (p. 83). The Proctor correspondence is discussed in Chronicle (May 1979, No. 102). With 1994 C.S.A. certificate
VERY FINE. FEWER THAN FIVE COVERS ARE KNOWN FROM CAMP GROCE, A CONFEDERATE PRISON IN TEXAS. SENT BY FLAG-OF-TRUCE FROM GALVESTON VIA THE U.S. NAVAL BLOCKADING SQUADRON IN THE GULF. AN OUTSTANDING ARTIFACT OF ACROSS-THE-LINES CIVIL WAR POSTAL HISTORY.
Captain A. N. Proctor was an officer in Company G, Massachusetts 42nd Infantry Regiment. From New York in late 1862, his company and two others (D, I) were transported on the Steamer Saxon to occupy Galveston, Texas, which had been under the guns of U.S. naval ships. The regiment arrived at New Orleans on December 16, then Galveston on December 24. The occupation plan was a disaster, as the 42nd was heavily engaged at Galveston by C.S.A. forces on January 1, 1863, and the three companies captured. The soldiers of the regiment were paroled at Alexandria La., on February 18, 1863, and assigned to Parole Camp Bayou. Proctor and the other officers, however, were not among those paroled -- reportedly in part because a colonel in the regiment had two black servants in his employ, which greatly offended the sensibilities of the Confederates. So greatly, in fact, that the two black servants were sold into slavery in Houston, one for the reported price of $47. This violation of the rules of war was a catalyst for Abraham Lincoln's General Order No. 252, issued on July 31, in which he stated, "To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offence against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against civilization...It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed, and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor..." Proctor was confined at Huntsville sometime between January and June (see lot 231) and transferred to Camp Groce sometime prior to November. He subsequently was marched to Tyler and Camp Ford in December 1863 before he was finally exchanged.
Camp Groce was located about 50 miles northwest of Houston, and became a prison in June 1863. It was closed in December 1864. Northbound mail was routed via Houston, where it was generally examined by Major Hyllested, and then sent via nearby Galveston to a U.S. Navy ship. Surviving letters are postmarked "U.S. Ship 3cts" or at New York. Fewer than five covers are known.
Ex Antrim and Birkinbine. Illustrated in Antrim (p. 137), Harrison (p. 64) and Special Routes (p. 82). The Proctor correspondence is described in Chronicle (May 1979, No. 102)
VERY FINE AND EXTREMELY RARE COVER FROM A PRISONER CAPTURED AT THE BATTLE OF SABINE PASS, TEXAS, AND CONFINED AT THE C.S.A. HOUSTON PRISON. SENT VIA FLAG-OF-TRUCE THROUGH GALVESTON AND THE U.S. NAVAL BLOCKADING SQUADRON IN THE GULF.
Despite an overwhelming advantage in force against a small Confederate garrison, the Federals suffered a humiliating defeat in the battle at Sabine Pass on September 8, 1863. Two gunboats were grounded and surrendered -- the U.S.S. Sachem and the Clifton, and captured men were moved to prisons at Houston, Hempstead (Camp Groce) and Tyler (Camp Ford). Based on the fewer than ten known covers from prisoners captured at Sabine Pass, it appears that they were moved between these locations over a period of six months. The endorsements, postmark dates and censor markings help identify mail from these prisons. In this case, the February New Orleans datestamp and endorsements point to the prison at Houston. Harrison records only three covers from the Houston Prison.
Illustrated in Special Routes (p. 80)