An American Condottiere: The Civil War Career of General Charles Carroll Tevis (Part 2)

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Colonel Charles C. Tevis in his Union Army uniform (courtesy National Archives of the United States).

In Part 1, I briefly discussed Tevis’s career as a budding soldier of fortune prior to the American Civil War. In this second entry, I will discuss the more salient and even salacious details of his career in the Union Army. While Tevis excelled as lieutenant-colonel of the 4th Delaware Volunteer Infantry, when given his own command he floundered badly. This blog entry explains why Tevis, under arrest and discharged from the service in the middle of 1864, nevertheless managed to get a brevet promotion to brigadier general.

In 1862, Tevis returned to the United States to offer his services in the Union Army. He procured a posting as Lieutenant Colonel on August 18 in the Fourth Delaware Infantry Regiment. His commanding officer, Colonel Arthur H. Grimshaw, praised Tevis calling him a “most useful, active and efficient officer.”  Engaged in organizing the regiment from that month through December, the 4th Delaware was subsequently assigned to garrison duty at Gloucester Point, Virginia. From June 4-5, 1863, Tevis led his men in a successful raid on a cannon foundry and grist mill near Richmond, earning him the commendation of Major General Erasmus D. Keyes for his “splendid daring.”[1]

Tevis, however, did not want to finish his Civil War career with the infantry. In fact, he was already scheming for a promotion and a cavalry regiment of his own. On April 21, he wrote a remarkable letter to Evan Randolph of Philadelphia that was published by a local newspaper, The North American and United States Gazette. Tevis’s previous experiences with black cavalrymen in the Turkish Army led him to ask President Abraham Lincoln for permission to raise a cavalry regiment of black southerners. Arguing that southern black men had more experience with horses than most white northerners, Tevis believed he could teach them to use sabres and hand grenades effectively to lay waste to opposing enemy horsemen. In order to bolster his men’s esprit de corps, Tevis wanted to outfit his unique unit with “handsome and soldierly” uniforms similar to those of the native troops known as “spahis” serving in French armies in North Africa.  He boasted, “Should I not be interfered with by ignorant outsiders, I will undertake, in six months time from my being appointed, to break up any force of rebel cavalry, not outnumbering me more than two to one.”[2]

A modern view of Fr. Delaware (courtesy Wikicommons).
A modern view of Fort Delaware, where thousands of Confederate POWs were held from 1862 to1865 (courtesy Wikicommons).

Apparently meeting with no endorsement from the president, Tevis settled for helping General Schenk in recruiting a regiment of white cavalrymen from the state of Maryland in late 1863. Tevis not only recruited from the loyal men of Baltimore and Kent County, but he also enlisted prisoners of war from the nearby Union prison camp at Fort Delaware. Swelled by men captured at the recent Battle of Gettysburg, Fort Delaware was one of several prison camps where Union authorities recruited Confederates into federal service. The appeal of being paid and getting better food and clothing than those who remained imprisoned convinced hundreds of these men to renounce their oaths to the Confederate Army. Tevis sweetened the deal by managing to get at least some of the prisoners bounties for enlisting. Although the scheme was temporarily halted by an angry Edwin M. Stanton, the U.S. Secretary of War, Tevis was soon given permission to recruit four companies worth of prisoners (D, E, F, and G) into his new regiment. The 3rd Maryland Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the “Bradford Dragoons” after the state’s governor, officially entered service in January 1864.[3]

Colonel Tevis’s new command presented him with many difficulties, many of them a direct result of his own poor decisions. While in the middle of recruiting his cavalry regiment in late 1863, Tevis befriended a local radical candidate named John Frazier. Frazier, who was running for Kent County clerk in the fall 1863 election, wanted to ensure that that he and his fellow Unconditional Unionists would win the Maryland state elections. Although Union military and government officials at all levels certainly did their utmost to ensure that only loyal citizens could vote, Frazier and Tevis went a step further by calling on citizens to support a “Government ticket”  and arresting a number of local politicians including Frazier’s election opponent. Horrified by what his subordinate had done, General Robert C. Schenck immediately placed Tevis under arrest on November 6 and rescinded his order. Not surprisingly Frazier and the other Unconditional Unionists lost the election. Eventually satisfied that Tevis had been “misled” by Frazier, Schenck released him from arrest three days later. Tevis’s interference in the election nearly cost him the command of the 3rd Maryland for Maryland Governor Augustus W. Bradford subsequently refused to commission him. Radical Republican congressman Henry Winter Davis, however, convinced Stanton to overrule Bradford, allowing Tevis to finish recruiting and muster his regiment into service.[4]

After being assigned to the Department of the Gulf, Tevis and his command saw action as scouts on February 29, 1864 from Madisonville to Covington, Louisiana, and again as part of General Nathaniel P. Banks’s unsuccessful Red River Expedition in March and April. As one might expect of a unit of “galvanized Yankees,” the nickname given to all former Confederates who joined the Union Army, morale was a constant problem for Tevis’s unit. Unlike most former prisoners who were sent to fight Indians in remote western outposts where they could be easily controlled, the 3rd Maryland’s service in Louisiana and Texas provided ample opportunities for desertion. By the end of the war, 401 men deserted from the unit, many of them from the former Confederate prisoners’ companies. In a typical display of poor judgment, Tevis decided to raise his unit’s morale by allowing his men to take their horses to a New Orleans racetrack on March 19. There the men not only competed against each other but bet on the outcome of their races. This was too much for General Edward Canby who had Tevis arrested on April 30. He remained under arrest until he was cashiered “for the good of the service” on July 20, 1864.[5]

Charles G. Leland, Tevis’s friend who later claimed responsibility for getting him promoted to brevet brigadier general (courtesy Wikicommons).

Tevis, never one to take such a setback or insult lightly, worked diligently to have this blight removed from his wartime record. Tevis not only succeeded in getting his discharge officially changed to an “honorable” one, but he was also successful in having the disability preventing him from serving in the army again removed by President Abraham Lincoln. One of his Philadelphia friends, the humorist and writer Charles Godfrey Leland, boasted after the war that he used his influence with the Secretary of the U.S. Senate, John W. Forney, to get Tevis a promotion to brevet brigadier general. In January 1867, President Andrew Johnson and Stanton nominated Tevis for the promotion, and Congress approved the request the following month. On July 16, General Orders No. 67 promoted Tevis to this rank to date from March 13, 1865 for his “gallant and meritorious services during the war.”[6]

Despite his success in having his war record amended, Tevis had no real desire to return to the U.S. Army. By the end of 1865, he had already joined a new military force organized by Irish Americans hoping to invade Canada thereby provoking an Anglo-American war that would end in Ireland’s liberation from British rule. His post-war service in the Fenian Brotherhood and in several other armies will be covered in the third and final part of my Tevis biography.

[1] Cullum, Biographical Register, 2: 389; Charles Carroll Tevis, 4th Delaware Infantry Regiment, Compiled Military Service Record (hereafter CMSR), U.S. National Archives; The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office) Series I, XXVII, Part 2: 777-780.

[2] “Negro Cavalry,” North American and United States Gazette, May 20, 1863.

[3] L. Allison Wilmer, J. H. Jarrett, and George W. F. Vernon, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-5 (Baltimore: Guggenheimer, Weil & Co., 1898), 1: 757; Official Records, Series III, IV: 1203-1204; Tevis, 3rd Maryland Cavalry Regiment, CMSR.

[4] Ibid; Charles L. Wagandt, “Election by Sword and Ballot: The Emancipationist Victory of 1863,” Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Baltimore: June 1964), 143-164; Richard F. Miller, States at War: A Reference Guide for Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey in the Civil War (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2015), 4: 413-419.

[5] Tevis, 3rd Maryland Cavalry Regiment, CMSR; Cullum, Biographical Register, 2: 389; Wilmer, Jarrett, and Vernon, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, 1: 757; “3rd Maryland Cavalry Regiment,” (accessed on May 31, 2016).

[6] I am indebted to Charles G. Leland, who remembered Tevis as “a perfect type of the old condottiero,” for the title of my biographical blog entries on Tevis. “Records of the Secretary of War, Record Series Originating During The Period 1789-1889, Endorsements, Endorsements Sent to the War Department Bureaus and to the Auditors of the Treasury Department (“B.B.” or “bureau Books”), 1846-1870,” U.S. National Archives, RG 107, Entry 40: Vol. 17, p. 23; Charles Godfrey Leland, Memoirs (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1893), 384; Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate: From December 3, 1866 to March 12, 1867, Inclusive (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1887), Vol XV, Part I: 135-6, 180, 189; Tevis, 3rd Maryland Regiment Cavalry, CMSR.