He was a man amongst men: A true local February Civil War story
By Hobie Morris
For many years the handwritten letter is a treasured family keepsake. Then sadly it burned in a family farm house fire. The recipient of this letter is a Civil War soldier named Maurice Vaughan from this area’s North Country. Vaughan would outlive the letter sender by 53 years. The latter tragically and unexpectedly dying the year the Civil War ended.
The Civil War soldier’s life spans many skirmishes now forgotten, the Mexican War, the Civil War, bloody and decade long Indian wars, the Spanish American War and the first World War of the 20th century. In 1918 Maurice Vaughan joined his long departed comrades in arms.
(For many years in a long list of local newspapers this simple country man, living with his lovely wife Lois in the Brookfield hills wrote extensively on many topics, including a favorite of his, the Civil War—usually with a local connection. One morning I received a long handwritten letter from a very appreciative farm wife living in Oriskany Falls. She especially liked a recent article that appeared in the awarding winning Waterville Times, owned in those years by Mary Cleary. The Oriskany Falls writer told me about a letter her grandfather had once received that included the quote “he was a man amongst men.”)
The man who wrote Vaughan came on a train soon afterwards through Utica heading home. He had been a tall, bearded man, who usually wore a black stovepipe hat.
The Oriskany Falls correspondent’s maternal grandfather was a 22 year old farmer—born in Ireland when he enlisted in Copenhagen, New York in April, 1861. He became a soldier in Company B of the 35th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run and discharged honorably in 1863. The same year he joined the 20th Cavalry. Vaughan was captured during this time and endured 14 months of horror at Andersonville Prison, being one of the first sent there. Somehow he survived well over 13,000 other prisoners left their bones to bleach on south Georgia’s sand.
He was regarded as a man of exceptionally great physical endurance, having survived great hardships during the Civil War. He later married and had five children, and became greatly admired as a farmer and local Justice of the Peace in Barnes Corners.
In early 1861 Private Maurice Vaughan was on guard duty at Upton Hill near Washington, D. C. Two men dressed in civilian clothes approached him on duty. He didn’t recognize either of them. They attempted to pass his post. The men were unable to give him the necessary counter sign. He would not let them pass. The shorter man said “Sir, I am Secretary of State Seward!” Private Vaughn replied “I don’t give a damn if you are Abraham Lincoln himself; he could not pass without the counter sign.” The tall man laughed and said he was glad for such good soldiers, requesting Vaughn to call the Officer of the Guard, who of course warmly welcomed Secretary Seward and President Lincoln to camp.
The hand written letter from President Lincoln to Maurice Vaughan has been a long cherished family memory. Indeed, both men in different ways were “a man amongst men.”
Sitting President Lincoln is the only President ever to come under enemy fire.
P.S. While teaching American history at a Missouri college I once shook hands with an elderly man from Illinois. Once he had shaken hands with a man who had done likewise with President Abraham Lincoln. My lesson to all: the past is not so long ago and should be passed on to newer generations.
But then again, these are only the musings of a simple country man.
Editor’s note: Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.