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Pugh Family Letters - Introduction and Index

Jump directly to Index of Letters

Introduction to the Pugh Family Letters

By George Rugg

The Pugh correspondence comprises twelve letters written by two members of a Western Pennsylvania Quaker family, father and son, during the Civil War. Joseph T. Pugh (1809-1903), the author of six of the letters, was born in Fallston, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, the son of John and Sarah Townsend Pugh. In 1832 he established a business in nearby New Brighton, making window sashes and washboards; somewhat later he turned to the manufacture of flour barrels. In 1833 he married Nancy McCreary. Pugh’s occupational status on the eve of the Civil War is uncertain; the 1860 Federal census identifies him only as a machinist — which he was, by training — and credits him with a small personal estate and real estate valued at $3000.

The six remaining letters in the correspondence were written by John Pugh (1833/4-1924), the oldest child of Joseph and Nancy Pugh. Like his father, John Pugh was a machinist — or so he is identified in the 1860 census. Prior to the war he resided at his parents' home in New Brighton, and was yet unmarried. Of John’s six siblings, five are mentioned in the correspondence, including Sarah Ann (b. 1835/6); Evan (b. 1839/40); Cecilia (b. 1847/8); Irene (b. 1850); and Henry (b. 1853/4).

In October 1861 John Pugh enlisted in the Union navy. The first of his letters, dated 30 March 1862 and addressed to his brother Evan, finds him a newly rated yeoman — a petty officer with primarily clerical responsibilities — aboard the U.S.S. Quaker City, then stationed at St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. The five remaining letters, written from 21 June to 27 July 1862 to family members at New Brighton, describe life aboard the Quaker City when that ship was serving in the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, operating out of Key West, Florida. Like most vessels on the blockade at this time, the Quaker City was a former merchant ship purchased by the navy and armed for military duty; she was a side-wheel steamer of 1600 tons, 244 feet in length, mounted with nine guns. On 17 May 1862 Commander James M. Frailey of the Quaker City received orders to depart Key West to "cruise between the Providence Channel [in the Bahamas] and Cape Canaveral [Florida], for the purpose of intercepting the Oreto, or any vessels that may leave Nassau having on board contraband of war for the Confederate states." Nassau, a British colonial port less than 200 miles from south Florida, was a convenient base for ships seeking to run the blockade into the Confederacy's Atlantic ports. "It will be your duty," Frailey's orders continued, "to board and carefully examine all vessels you may meet with, but you will be particular to instruct your boarding officers not to give unnecessary offense, to be courteous but firm in the execution of their duty." (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. . ., Series I, Vol. 17, p. 241). Maintaining an effective blockade was an often tricky diplomatic business, the more so since the owners, captains, and crews of many blockade runners were British.

Union naval letters letters frequently describe blockade service as monotonous. But such was not the case aboard the Quaker City in the early summer of 1862. Over the period recounted in the letters the Quaker City seized four vessels suspected of bearing cargos destined for the Confederacy. The first encounter mentioned by Pugh, though, was one that got away. On 27 May the Quaker City stopped the British steamer Memphis, examined her papers, and allowed her to proceed. In his letter of 21 June (written almost one month after the incident) Pugh derides Fraily for not being an officer "of the right kind," saying "we heard a few days ago that she [i.e., the Memphis] had run the blockade." This was, in fact, correct: the Memphis made the run to Charleston in June, with what proved to be a cargo of arms, powder, and medical supplies. Frailey was formally reprimanded by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles for failing to open the ship's hatches and search her hold.

In the weeks that followed the Quaker City demonstrated no similar reluctance. Three of Frailey's subsequent victims are mentioned in Pugh's letter of 10 July. His "Brig off Providence loaded with coal" refers to the seizing, on 30 June, of the Model in the Bahamas; this ship was subsequently released on order of the flag officer of the squadron. "July 3rd we boarded a Barque . . . and sent her to Boston" refers to the capture of the English brig Lilla, of Liverpool. The Lilla was eventually condemned as a legitimate prize of war and sold — with half the proceeds going to the government and half, by naval tradition, going to the officers and men of the Quaker City. (The possibility of such financial windfalls was in fact a great incentive to serving on the blockade). The central narrative of Pugh's letter refers to the seizing of the British steamer Adela in the Bahamas on 7 July. Frailey's "attack" on the Adela incensed the British, who claimed in addition that the Quaker City fired two shots before hoisting her American colors, and that the incident took place in British territorial waters. Nonetheless, the Adela remained at Key West for adjudication, and was subsequently purchased by the American navy. Finally, the letter of 26 July discusses the capture, two days before, of the British schooner Orion in the Gulf of Mexico. Such a flurry of activity, in a period of less than two months, was remarkable for any ship on blockade duty; it perhaps explains the survival of these particular letters.

Of the six letters in the collection written by Joseph Pugh, five date from the summer of 1864, when Pugh was living not in New Brighton but in Columbus, Ohio. He appears to have taken a temporary job with the army, in the Quartermaster’s office; the understanding seems to have been that he would assist, perhaps in an advisory capacity, in the raising of a group of hospital wards planned for Camp Chase. Dr. David Stanton, a resident of New Brighton and a relation of Pugh’s, was assistant medical director of the army’s Northern Department, then headquartered at Columbus; it may have been through Stanton’s intervention that Pugh was hired. The letters discuss Pugh’s affairs in Columbus and inquire after the family at home. A central concern is the well-being of Joseph’s son Evan Pugh, then serving in Co. G, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, in the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Absent from the letters — and equally absent from the letters of John Pugh — is any mention of the family’s wartime activities in the context of their membership in the Society of Friends.

After the war John Pugh married and established a dental practice in Philadelphia. Joseph Pugh was employed as a bank clerk, and remained in New Brighton until his death in 1903.

Provenance note: Five of the letters written by John Pugh (MSN/CW 5009-1.5 to MSN/CW 5009-5) were purchased by the University Libraries from R. M. Smythe and Co., New York (Auction 194, 21-22 January 2000, lot 1503). MSN/CW 5009-1 was purchased via ebay in 2005 from Ken Kooyman of St. Louis MO. The letters written by Joseph Pugh (MSN/CW 5009-6 to MSN/CW 5009-11) were purchased via ebay in 2005 from Nancy Howell of Sacramento CA.

Bibliographic note: Records pertaining to the Quaker City's actions in May, June, and July of 1862 may be found in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Washington DC, 1894-1922, Series I, Vol. 17, pp 239-308, passim). For information on the blockade runners mentioned in the letters, see Stephen R. Wise, Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War, Columbia SC, 1988, Appendix 22. A brief biography of Joseph T. Pugh appears in Book of Biographies: this volume contains biographical sketches of leading citizens of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Buffalo, 1899, pp. 133-34.

Index of Letters

MSN/CW 5009-1LetterMarch 30, 1862St. Thomas, Danish West IndiesJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-1.5LetterJune 21, 1862Key West, FloridaJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-2LetterJuly 10, 1862Key West, FloridaJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-3LetterJuly 16, 1862Key West, FloridaJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-4LetterJuly 26 [1862]Key West, FloridaJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-5LetterJuly 27, 1862Key West, FloridaJohn Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-6LetterNovember 22, 1863New Brighton, PennsylvaniaJoseph T. Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-7LetterJune 1-5, 1864Columbus, OhioJoseph T. Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-8LetterJuly 3, 1864Columbus, OhioJoseph T. Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-9LetterJuly 7, 1864Columbus, OhioJoseph T. Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-10LetterJuly 14, 1864Columbus, OhioJoseph T. Pugh
MSN/CW 5009-11LetterJuly 24, 1864Columbus, OhioJoseph T. Pugh

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