Northern aid to the Shenandoah Valley (1865)

Posted on March 2, 2016 by



Scanning through some (relatively) local postwar newspapers, I ran across the mention of a relief society for the Shenandoah Valley… that’s right, Northern aid for civilians of the Shenandoah Valley in the wake of “The Burning”. The only article (in Hagerstown’s Herald and Torch) available to me via, about this society, dated to August 1865. So, in an effort to find more, I quickly did a search and came across this clipping in the Alexandria Gazette (Feb. 17, 1865):


While I think there’s something to be said for those who contributed to the effort (it seems advertisements for this effort were limited to Maryland and Northern Virginia) who contributed, those in charge may have been less than honorable in their undertaking.

Anyway, what I found particularly interesting (apart from being fascinated for the fact that there even was such an effort) was the manner in which the Herald and Torch editors supported the effort, considering, only four months prior, they had placed a scathing piece in the newspaper, calling for revenge (to a degree) against the former Southerners of the rebellion (I’ll have to put that up in a follow-up post). Nonetheless, enter the Herald and Torch article from August 30, 1865:

 THE LADIES’ SHENANDOAH VALLEY RELIEF ASSOCIATION. – This association, formed here during last winter, for the ostensible purpose mentioned in its title, had recently considerable attention attracted to it by a correspondence between the editor of the Mail, who is Treasurer of the Association, and the Lancaster (Pa.) Express. It appears that J.P. Harman, late publisher of the School Journal, who is represented as a traveling agent for the collection of money and stores, was recently operating in Lancaster county, when the attention of the Express was called to the fact, and doubt expressed as to his being an authorized agent of any responsible body. The editor, thereupon, in an article under the head of “A Caution,” advised his readers to withhold their contributions until further information should be received from Hagerstown. The editor of the Mail, seeing this article, took his Books, purporting to show receipts and expenditures of the association, and laid them before the editor of this paper and the President of the Hagerstown Savings Bank, with the request to examine statements, and if satisfactory, to do him the favor of writing notes to that effect, for him to present to the editor of the Express. This was done, on the impulse of the moment, and the notes placed in his hands. The editor of the Mail, thereupon, without knowledge of the writers of these notes, in addition, wrote a scurrilous letter to the editor of the Express, in which he took occasion to denounce in the severest terms the parties who had expressed unfavorable opinions concerning the character of said association. At the same time, letters were received by the editor of the Express, from several other persons in Hagerstown, gentlemen of the highest standing, confirming the previous unfavorable reports. All these letters, with comments by the editor, were published in the Express on the 17th inst., – that paper remaining unsatisfied from the conflicting statements, whether J.P. HARMAN and the association were worthy of confidence or not.

Upon this, the editor of the Mail brings the matter into the columns of his paper, in a manner which is disgraceful alike to himself and the association which he represents. The editor of any newspaper would be fully justified under the circumstances in giving the caution published in the Express, and the suspicions of “something rotten in Denmark” are by no means set at rest by the fierce assaults of the Society’s Treasurer upon persons who had a perfect right to make inquiry and to express their honest convictions concerning the operations of the association.

When the Society was organized we warmly commended its objects, knowing from many sources that the suffering to be relieved in the Valley was of such an extent as to require the aid of all willing hands, but the charges against the society were so numerous that we felt called upon in our issue of the 23d of March to allude to them, and while then satisfied from inquiry made that some good was being done, we said: “We think it due to the public that a list of the contributions and contributors should be published for general information. If the society is all right and is carrying out its avowed designs, it can have no objection to this.” As Mr. DECHERT promises to call a meeting of the society shortly and lay before it a full financial statement, with a request for permission to publish it, we may reasonably expect soon to know what has been done. We withhold comments upon this subject, until the statement is published or until due time shall elapse for it to be given.

We feel called upon, now, to notice the beastly and ferocious attacks which this chivalrous editor takes this opportunity to make upon the clergy , who have been devotedly loyal; upon the Union Commission and upon a lady who is universally beloved by our Union citizens for her large-hearted and open-handed benevolence. That the operations of a society of which he professes to be merely an agent should be called in question, is not a sufficient reason for the open war which he wages upon these purest, most responsible and most worthy of our citizens. These persons, with us, charitably hoped that the parties composing the Relief Association would be able to relieve suffering, and although their disloyalty was well known, and the Society worked in a manner different from the American Union Commission and the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, they refrained from attacking it. When scores of letters of doubtful inquiry, coming in from various parts of the country, led to the belief that the Society was not acting in good faith, to show the charitable in whose hands they were placing their money and stores, the antecedents of its members were impartially reported.

The clergy of Hagerstown, whose character is assailed, and whose influence is attempted to be undermined by this model Treasurer of a benevolent society, (because a man who was once guilty of crime is now preaching the forgiveness of sins, or exhorting, in Lancaster county, and because one of the Pastors here wrote a letter declaring the Society disloyal.) have always been faithful to the apostolic injunction, “ Let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” and have boldly declared treason as the highest of crimes. On this account he owes them a grudge which he attempts to pay in this manner. But they will survived the fiercest assaults of this remorseless enemy of the truth, and their usefulness will live when he and his vile sheet are forgotten.

The American Union Commission, which the article in the Mail pronounces a failure, is ready through Mr. WM. M. MARSHALL, President of its Hagerstown branch, to receive and forward all kinds of supplies to the suffering poor of the Shenandoah Valley, and will distribute without reference to the past of the needy. Its comparative inactivity here is due in measure to the fact that many Union men who would otherwise have contributed, had already subscribed and paid in their contributions for that purpose, to the Society of which Mr. DECHERT is Treasurer, so that his [illegible] at that organization is not only unjust but is evidence of black ingratitude. The Union Commission has had representations made to it that needy persons in the Valley who are known to be loyal to the Government have been passed over by the agents of this rebel concern, to enable it to make a greater display of liberality among those of its own style of thinking and acting.

It is past our comprehension how the Treasurer of a Society whose sole object is avowedly the relive of suffering existing principally among women and children, could so far forget his position and what is due to it, as to make the cowardly assault he does upon the noble woman who is President of the Hagerstown Ladies’ Christian Commission – a lady who has loved the Old Flag of our Fathers with such fond devotion that she has incessantly labored during the entire war to relieve the sufferings of the heroes who were wounded in defending it, and has expended much of her fortune in her labor of love, winning golden opinions from all the good and true who have known her – a lady whose kindness of heart led her to the ambulances in our streets bearing the rebel wounded southward from Gettysburg, and forgetting everything in reference to them but that they were suffering fellow creatures, labored through day and night to prepare them food and drink, until the last morsel of food in her house, and the last ounce of tea and coffee were devoted to their relief. That such an assault as the last issue of the Mail contains, should be made upon such a woman, is sad evidence that the treachery of its author’s heart did not end with the war (when, he says, he had fondly hoped peace would come) but shows that the traitor-devil is in him still.

The public will await with interest the promised statement of the treasurer. The vague generalities and chicanery employed by the Mail, in its tone of injured innocence, are exceedingly affecting, but there is a large number of unrelenting contributors to the Shenandoah Fund, who require the facts and figures.

Obviously, there were a lot of questions being asked, and accusations being made.

A couple of things to note…

First, while the Herald and Torch had been a pro-Union paper since well before the war, the Hagerstown Mail was just the opposite, pushing secession. Also, if you didn’t notice, go back and take a look at the part (the text that is in bold) in which there is mention of misrepresentation regarding relief/aid… suggesting that aid was not being liberally distributed, and known loyal Southern Unionists of the Valley had been purposefully ignored. Interesting stuff.

Obviously, I’d like to know more. Still, despite a cursory search of the Web, I couldn’t find a follow-up article… at least not one that was freely accessible. I’m particularly curious as to whether the association ever actually posted a list of contributors, and if any aid/relief from this effort actually reached the civilians of the Shenandoah Valley (meaning accounts by Shenandoah Valley civilians who received aid. If anyone has any additional details, I’d appreciate hearing about them. In the meantime, I’ll also remain on the hunt for more.