John Summerfield Staples, Step Forward. April 15 is the 154th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death from an assassin’s bullet. This brought to mind an action Lincoln had taken six months earlier that involved my old stomping ground of Northeastern Pennsylvania. At that time the President’s military draft was letting individuals pay for substitutes to serve in their stead. Lincoln, though overage, decided to set a personal example by paying for a “representative recruit” for himself. Young Staples, of Stroudsburg in the Poconos, was the rather random pick. Already a discharged veteran, Staples had gone to Washington in 1864 to work with his father as a carpenter. There, the story goes, an emissary for Lincoln happened to approach and lure in the young man. Staples was taken to the White House to meet the great man, who paid him $500 to re-up. Staples would serve uneventfully behind the lines and return uneventfully to Stroudsburg, where he died at age 43 in 1888. A state historical marker about Staples was erected in 1999 on Main Street in Stroudsburg. I’ll be giving a talk next month in Dingman’s Ferry, near there, and will have to quiz folks on their awareness of this unlikely local story.
“The Rebel Raid.” My research into a Civil War camp near my home took me recently into the pages of the West Philadelphia Hospital Register, a weekly printed at the time by the wartime Satterlee military hospital. Along with the paper’s lists of fresh patients and discharges and deaths were poems, homilies, commentary, and ads. A particular poem, “The Rebel Raid,” caught my eye. It ran on June 27, 1863, days before the Battle of Gettysburg, as the North was stunned by Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The writer, who went by the name “the Bard of Tower Hall,” had penned these lines:
People of the Keystone State,
Hostile footsteps press your soil;
Pause not now for cold debate
While your foemen seize the spoil.
See, they come, on plunder bent!
Haste the mischief to prevent;
Save the produce of your tillage,
Save your fields and barns from pillage;
Save your stores and dwelling houses,
Comfort your affrighted spouses;
Plainly show those hungry sinners
You’ll not furnish them with dinners.
“Hospitable graves,” indeed,
May they from our kindness claim,
When they hither come to feed,
Uninvited, void of shame.
Pennsylvanians can’t afford
These voracious gangs to board,
Or to furnish them with coats
Paid for with secession notes.
Customers of such a kind
BENNETT wishes not to find;
But to good and true men he
Bargains sells most willingly.
The largest stock and most complete assortmentof Ready-made Clothing in Philadelphia on hand, and selling much below present market prices. TOWER HALL, No. 518 Market Street; BENNETT & CO.
Yes, you just read an ad jingle! Bennett & Co. operated a “clothing bazaar” known as Tower Hall–and had a copywriter whose clever words could put today’s big ad agencies to shame.
Book News. I’ll be heading up to the beautiful upper Delaware River to give an Embattled Freedom author talk on Thursday, May 16, at 7 p.m. The presentation is hosted by the Delaware Township Historical Society and takes place in the township municipal building, 116 Wilson Hill Rd., Dingmans Ferry, Pa. 18328. After that, I’m off the road until September and will gladly be nose-down on my current research project.