91st PA--duty and temptations at Alexandria Virginia

Duty at Alexandria, Virginia

"Severe and unenviable service now kept the regiment fully occupied for four months."
Chaplain Joseph Welch


The 91st relieved the 88th PA in Alexandria on 27 April 1862. Colonel Gregory became Provost Marshal by the 23rd ('By magnetic telegraph', and [appointment as provost marshal of Alexandria]). He replaced Colonel Egbert L Viele.

The report in Bates describes the 88th's service in this way:

Companies A, B, and H, were recruited in Berks county, and the remaining companies in Philadelphia. Immediately on its arrival in Washington, it was ordered into camp at Kendall Green. On the 12th of October, it moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and was assigned to provost guard duty, in and around the city, relieving the Fourth New Jersey. Until this time the command was without arms, having left Philadelphia but partially uniformed, and without equipments. The regiment here received the State colors, which were presented by Hon. Galusha A. Grow, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and were received in behalf of the regiment by Hon. William D. Kelly, member of Congress from Philadelphia. Patriotic speeches were also made by Colonel M'Lean, General Montgomery, in command of the district, and others. It was armed with the Enfield rifle. Guard duty was relieved of its monotony by company and battalion drills, and parades. The regiment continued on this duty, much to the satisfaction of the loyal citizens, until February 18th, 1862, when companies A, C, D, E and I, under Colonel M'Lean, were ordered to garrison the forts on the Maryland side of the Potomac. The remaining companies continued on duty in Alexandria, under command of Major Gile.

On the 17th [sic] of April, the regiment was re-united, both battalions having been ordered to report to Brigadier General Duryea, at Cloud's Mills, near Alexandria.

They were quartered through the town for provost duty. Edgar Gregory was acting Military Governor, and Joseph Sinex was Provost Marshal of Alexandria. Alexandria was filled with sick and wounded soldiers ['The Washington correspondent', Alexandria Gazette 11 June 1862 page 4]. They were relieved by the 94th New York on 21 August 1862.

They also had a detachment at a bridge east of Springfield Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, about seven miles from Alexandria. On 5 June 1862, company H had seventeen men on duty there. 'There is not much danger in it but still we have to look pretty sharp', he claimed. Robert J Armstrong reported that during the day they slept, shot game, and picked strawberries. [letter, Robt J Armstrong to family, 5 June 1862]

Enoch Carroll Brewster's court martial gives some information, especially about the slave pen. One guard post was at the slave pen; BJ Tayman testified that it was the "most responsible" post in Alexandria. Howard Shipley and Brewster were each Officer of the Guard there roughly every third day. Guard mounting was at 8 o'clock; the tour of duty of Officer of the Guard began at 8 AM and lasted for twenty-four hours. The Officer of the Guard was over seven posts; posting a relief took about fifteen minutes; the guard consisted of twenty-nine men. Prisoners confined by Colonel Gregory or the Deputy Provost Marshall John Lentz?) could only be released by them; other prisoners could also be released by the Officer of the Day. They also had men on duty at "1st Division King Street". (John Mann's court martial also mentions that the regiment used the slave pen as a guardhouse.)

Apparently on 25 May 1862, William H Johnson (K) was on duty at the slave pen, and on hearing that General Banks had been attacked, posted guards along the railroad for three miles, to protect it from secessionists, while Colonel Gregory prepared railroad cars to take reinforcements to General Banks.

In June 1862, Colonel Gregory was ordered to convert churches which showed secessionist sympathies to military hospitals. He converted the Baptist Church and several others. ['A secesh church shut up' (New York Times 19 June 1862, page 4)]. By the time he left Alexandria, apparently five of the thirteen buildings being used as hospitals were secessionist churches ['Our Alexandria letter' [Philadelphia Inquirer 23 August 1862, page 1)]. He also refused to return an escaped slave to a citizen of Maryland ['Fugitive-slave case in Alexandria' (Philadelphia Press, Saturday 28 June 1862, page 1) and 'Alexandria' ([Baltimore] Sun 27 June 1862, page 4)].

In a letter dated 16 June 1862, Andrew Brown (C) mentions two episodes that show Alexandria's sympathy for the Confederates. First, 'a great crowd of women' was bringing 'fries[,] cakes[,] coffee' and other things to Confederate prisoners; when they 'began to get sassy and talk for Jeff Davis', the regiment arrested two, but released them when they promised not to continue. Second, he notes that Colonel Gregory took possession of an Episcopal church when the minister refused to pray for the president and the success of the Federal army. Colonel Gregory took the church during a service. Brown adds that Company C's flag was flying from the second story of the Church, which was to be used as a hospital.

On 18 June 1862, at ceremonies unveiling a new United States flag presented by the Ladies' 'Union society', Colonel Gregory spoke, and the 91st Pennsylvania's drum corps played ([ceremonies at Alexandria] ([Baltimore] Sun 19 June 1862 page 4).

On 4 July 1862, the regiment paraded, receiving various dignities, and marching to Lyceum Hall, where the Fourth was celebrated with music and an oration by Virginia Senator Willey ('At Alexandria', [Baltimore] Sun 7 July 1862 page 4). And on 2 August 1862, the regiment had a dress parade, with company G receiving a flag, and with the chaplain, Joseph Welch, giving an address.

On 21 July 1862, Franklin Clough deserted. At his trial, John G Brass testified that "it was usual for some of the men to be absent a day or so after they were paid" (!) (court-martial record, National Archives, record group 153, KK 170, 8 October 1862, Franklin L Clough).

On 4 August 1862, Andrew Brown (C) wrote a letter to his father and sister, in which he claimed: 'we are now one of the best drilled regiments in the service[.] its [sic] not likely well [sic] leave here for some time if at all[.] general Wadsworth says we give more satisfaction than any regiment he has had yet[.]' He also said that they had guard duty every third day.

On the other hand, on 8 August 1862, General Wadsworth ordered him to release prisoners arrested simply because they refused to take the oath of allegiance. (William Pentland referred to taking a prisoner to the slave pen because he refused to take the oath.)

On 8 August 1862, Enoch Carroll Brewster had duty as the Officer of the Guard at the slave pen. He was unable to perform his duty because he was drunk, and released two prisoners without authority. One was Levi Elder, of the 69th New York Volunteers, whom John Lentz, Deputy Provost Marshal, had placed under his charge.

In August 1862, several soldiers, including Miles Finnegan, allegedly died of poisoned whisky 'Local' (Alexandria Gazette 12 August 1862, page 2) and 'Local' (Alexandria Gazette 13 August 1862 page 2)].

Brigadier General John P Slough was assigned to duty as military governor of Alexandria on 25 August 1862 (HQ, Army of the Potomac, special order 206, 25 August 1862, in Official Records series I, volume 12, part 3, p.664).

The regiment left Alexandria on 20 August 1862 ['Assigned' (Philadelphia Inquirer 21 August 1862 page 1)].


Walter mentions "demoralizing forces" including "whisky and bad women". Chaplain Welch simply described the time as involving "[s]evere and unenviable service" (p.501). Perhaps John Mann (H) was harmed by this service; at his court martial, Sergeant George Finney testified that Mann was "a habitual drunkard", and added that "in Camp Stanton he behaved well but since we came to Washington he has behaved badly".

Abel Diehl (F) apparently kept a "house of ill repute" in Prince Lane, Alexandria. At some point he was in the slave pen as a deserter.

Allegedly, on 26 November 1862, a captain in the 91st was arrested at a gambling house in Washington DC. (The 91st had left Alexandria by then.)


While the regiment was stationed at Alexandria, the strife between Captain Alpheus Bowman (B) and First Lieutenant Morris Kayser (B) came to a head. At regimental headquarters, Bowman told Kayser, 'You are a liar, you God damned son of a bitch', and hit him in the face, on 26 July 1862. He was tried by a general court martial, found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, and sentenced to be dismissed. After his dismissal, he was reinstated.

Other rumors had the commissioned officers nearly in open mutiny, with the regiment reduced to 400 men, and Colonel Gregory being too harsh to the regiment and too lenient to the Confederates. The commissioned officers took those rumors seriously enough to publish a "card" denying them.

One contemporary newspaper article described Colonel Gregory as the "energetic and popular Provost Marshal", but later gives a different impression, by suggesting that Gregory would appreciate support from "some of our Alexandria ladies, who now express so much indignation at his every official act".

The 91st also had ceremonial duties, including accompanying the remains of Colonel Larned from the funeral services to the train depot.

William H Johnson (K) described Alexandria as 'something like Philadelphia', claiming he could purchase anything he needed there. However, he also apologized for sending only ten dollars to his parents, claiming that 'situated as we are in town i [sic] can not send as much home as i could if we were a laying [sic] out in Camp'.

In February 1863, Andrew Brown (C) reported a rumor that Gregory was to be reappointed military governor of Alexandria.

Military Governors of Alexandria

According to James G Barber's Alexandria in the Civil War (c1988) (which barely mentions Gregory and the 91st, on p.29), the Military Governors of Alexandria were these:

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revised 25 Dec 14
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