Honoring Pvt William H Halsey, 20th USCT

In December 1863, William Henry Halsey was “met on the street in Goshen” by a man named Tip Little who inquired if he would like to enlist in the Union Army. William told him that if he could get the same $450 dollar bounty that others were getting, then he would be willing to enlist. The man informed William that the men were only getting $350, to which William found agreeable. William went home with Tip Little and had dinner with him before they departed by train to NYC. [1] What William didn’t know at the time was that Tip Little was one of the most devious predators of the age – a “bounty broker.”

On November 12, 1863, a few short weeks before William would enlist, the Union League Club, a social club of “five hundred of the wealthiest and most influential gentlemen,” of New York City decided they wanted to help fill the state’s quota of volunteers. [2] In doing so, they also allowed the employment of recruiting agents (aka bounty brokers) to go out and find people to join the service for a “finder’s fee.” [2] However, these bounty brokers went to great lengths to abuse the system for quick, easy cash. Reports from General Dix to the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee detailed some of the dubious methods deployed by these brokers: “offering employment as laborers only to find themselves enlisted instead, men were drugged and enlisted while unconscious, promises of furloughs, and outright lies that they would receive the balances of their bounty to be paid on arrival at Riker’s Island.” [3] (For more information on the criminal and deceitful practices of the bounty brokers, please look for New York’s Civil War Bounty Brokers, by Eugene C. Murdock.)

William’s service card. [4] Click to view larger image.

After arriving in NYC, Little hired some horses and they rode together to Lafayette Hall where William was examined by a doctor, signed his enlistment papers, and was sworn in for a three year term as a private in Company B of the 20th U S Colored Troops. (It is presumed that he was sworn in by Lieutenant Cole, as is listed on his service card.) [4]

Tip Little then handed a roll of money to William but when William unrolled it, instead of finding the $350 bounty he’d so willing agreed upon, he found only $25. He showed the money to both of them but neither of the men, Little or the supposed Lt. Cole, said anything to him about the monetary discrepancy. Instead, he was given over to the guard and was sent to Riker’s Island the next day. Later, William would go on to state “all the bills except two I afterwards found to be such as I could not pass.” [5]

However, William was not alone. The predatory behavior and downright criminal acts of the bounty brokers and their associates were being brought to light, thanks in part to the regiment’s own chaplain, a black pastor named George W. LeVere, who had been born in NYC but preached out of Flatbush. [6] During the Civil War, only black surgeons and chaplains could be commissioned as officers and LeVere, as a black officer, was one who wouldn’t back down in the face of racism at Riker’s. Reportedly when “he was denied service in the General Officers Mess hall, he brought the issue to Col. Nelson Bartram, who invited LeVere to dine with him and made it clear to all that such discrimination would not be tolerated.” [7] LeVere’s reputation endeared him to the men who trusted the chaplain with all their woes and issues. He wrote letters to the African-American press, religious, and anti-slavery groups about the discrimination and maltreatment that he and the regiment experienced from the people of New Orleans and in the white Union ranks, as well. [8]

Chaplain George W. LeVere [9]

William Halsey gave testimony of his enlistment troubles with LeVere’s help on 27 February 1864 in a letter to the Adjunct General. [10] Sadly, the very next day after signing an X to mark his name, William’s older brother, Anslom, who served in the 26th Regiment that was also stationed at Riker’s Island, would pass away from “disease” while in camp. [11] As devastating as Anslom’s death must have been for William, he’d have had little time to mourn for his brother as the 20th Regiment was preparing to leave New York within days. Anslom’s remains were sent back to Orange County for burial in Washingtonville Cemetery. [12]

William Halsey’s testimony. [13] Click to view larger image.

At 9 am on March 5, the 20th Regiment boarded a steamship at Riker’s Island and was ferried to 26th Street [14] and then marched to Union Square where they were met with “cheers and waving handkerchiefs” of over one hundred thousand people. [15] All segments of society came to see the regimental spectacle, packing the square and scaling rooftops to peer at the “sable soldiers” who apparently “made a fine appearance” dressed in their blue uniforms, white gloves and leggings. Unfathomably, they were made to stand in front of Lafayette Hall – the very same building where William (and countless others) had been duped and swindled by Tip Little and other bounty brokers just a few months earlier. [16] One can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that must have been running through William’s mind as he stood there that day, scandalously robbed of his bounty, standing in front of that particular building, mourning a dead brother, and being sent off to the South where “far greater dangers” awaited a black soldier if taken prisoner of war. [17]

An excerpt from The New York Independent newspaper, 10 March 1864. [17]

The troops were presented their colors and were “warmly” addressed by the president of Columbia College. After the presentation of colors, the troops “partook of a collation provided for them” which included “corpulent cans of coffee and fat baskets of sandwiches” that were distributed among them. The newspaper article included various excited quips from the soldiers about how happy and grateful they supposedly were. Following their luncheon, there were a few more speeches before a band played the regiment off as they marched down Broadway to the North River where they boarded the Ericsson and set sail for New Orleans. [18]

Engraving - In Union Square in New York City, the 20th U. S. C. T. receives its colors and departs for New Orleans.
Presentation of Colors to the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, Colonel Bartram, at the Union League club House, N.Y., March 5, 1864. [19]

While the 20th Regiment was deployed on garrison duty, Major General Dix, commander of the Department of the East, began receiving complaints about unscrupulous enlistments but it seemed that that commanding officer at Lafayette Hall, General Spinola and his underlings (including Lt. Cole – presumably the same one that was listed on William’s card as enlisting him), were some of the worst offenders. [20] In his report to the Secretary of War, Dix informed the Secretary that when he was made aware of the complaints, he summoned General Spinola who, of course, denied any wrongdoing and assured Dix that “recruiting regulations were fully complied with; that no man was enlisted without being fully apprised of the nature of his service; no recruit was defrauded of their bounty; that if it were a lesser sum being paid, it was by voluntary and amicable agreement.” However, as Dix’s investigation continued and the complaints mounted, the evidence became so overwhelming that he ordered the arrest of Lieutenant Cole and the surgeon, Dr. Kerrigan. Cole was subsequently dismissed from the military and Dr. Kerrigan was “disqualified” from working as a contractor with the military again. [21]

While Dix did recover some of the pilfered funds from the prosecuted bounty brokers they’d managed to identify and apprehend [22], it’s unclear as of this writing, if William Halsey ever received the balance of the full bounty paid back to him. We do know that on his muster out card, it is shown that he is due $100 bounty – perhaps the remaining monies were dispersed through the course of his service for equipment and such and all that was left was the $100. [23] It’s also unclear if Tip Little was ever charged with a crime and prosecuted. Several newspapers searches into “Tip Little” revealed several men with different ages and locations so it’s possible that it was a moniker many of the fraudsters used to make it difficult to pin them down. What is known, however, is that through Dix’s efforts (and thanks in part to Chaplain LeVere attention, as well) the rules were modified to stop the fraudulent recruiting practices and over time, the bounty brokers profession was eventually broken. [24]

William passed away on 2 March 1889 and lies in our cemetery, unmarked, in what we believe to be the “Civil War section,” perhaps near his brother Abslom. [25] We’re not entirely sure William ever had a headstone at all, but it is our desire to eventually apply for a government military stone to acknowledge his service. Until then, William is commemorated on plaque B-37 of the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington D.C. [26]

We will remember and continue to honor William Halsey and we hope you will now too.

WORKS CITED:

(Featured Header Image) Joseph T Wilson, The Black Phalanx; a history of the Negro soldiers of the United States in the Wars of 1775-1812, 1861-’65 (Hartford, Connecticut: American Publishing Company, 1888), 378; digital images, HathiTrust (http://www.hathitrust.org : accessed 15 June 2020).

[1] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 June 2020), entry for William H Halsey, enlisted 1863, New York; citing National Archives microfilm publication Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers, 1863-1865, M1823, roll 7.

[2] Union League Club, Report of the Committee on Volunteering (New York, New York : Club House, 1864), 4-5, 11; digital images, HathiTrust (http://www.hathitrust.com : accessed 14 June 2020.

[3] Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Volume 62 (London, England : Harrison and Sons, 1864), 38-40; digital images, Google Books (http://www.books.Google.com : accessed 17 June 2020.

[4] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com, entry for William H Halsey, enlisted 1863.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Militaria & Weapons,” Worthopedia (http://worthpoint.com : accessed 18 June 2020), image copy, “Signed CDV of George W. LeVere, Civil War Chaplain of the 20th US Colored Troops”; crediting “eBay.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com, entry for William H. Halsey, enlisted 1863.

[11] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 June 2020), entry for Anselen Halsey, enlisted 1863, New York; citing National Archives microfilm publication Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers, 1863-1865, M1824, roll 5.

[12] Find A Grave, database with images, (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 19 June 2020), memorial 210104452, Anslom Halsey (1818-1864), Washingtonville Cemetery, Washingtonville, Orange County, New York; gravestone photograph by P Jill Moore, creator P Jill Moore.

[13] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com, entry for William H. Halsey, enlisted 1863.

[14] “The Fete to the 20th U. S. Colored Infantry,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated (New York) Newspaper, 26 March 1864, p. 7, cols. 3-4; image copy, House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College (http://housedivided.dickinson.edu : accessed 16 June 2020).

[15] “Ovation To Black Troops”, New York Times, 6 March 1864, p. 8, cols. 1-3, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 16 June 2020).

[16] “The Fete to the 20th U. S. Colored Infantry.”

[17] Union League Club, Report of the Committee on Volunteering (New York, New York : Club House, 1864), 42; digital images, HathiTrust (http://www.hathitrust.com : accessed 14 June 2020.

[18] “The Fete to the 20th U. S. Colored Infantry.”

[19] “Presentation of Colors to the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, New York City, March 5, 1864,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated (New York) Newspaper, 26 March 1864, p. 7, cols. 3-4; image copy, House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College (http://housedivided.dickinson.edu : accessed 16 June 2020).

[20] “Frauds on Recruits”, New York Times, 16 April 1864, p. 2, col. 5, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 18 June 2020).

[21] Ibid.

[22] Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Volume 62.

[23] “U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865,” database with images, Ancestry.com, entry for William H. Halsey, enlisted 1863.

[24] “Frauds on Recruits.”

[25] Find A Grave, database with images, (http://www.findagrave.com : accessed 19 June 2020), memorial 209309330, William Henry Halsey (1824-1889), Washingtonville Cemetery, Washingtonville, Orange County, New York; creator P Jill Moore.

[26] National Parks Service, “Soldiers,” database, Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System (https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soliders-and-sailors-database.htm : accessed 19 June 2020, entry for William H. Halsey, Pvt., Co. B, 20th USCT, Union.

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