John Babcock, Secret Agent

In the Manuscript Room at the Library of Congress, I came across the papers of John C. Babcock, who enlisted with Sturgis Rifles in 1861. (I was hoping to find more directly related JW manuscripts, but an interesting segue.) As happened in these early days, the company took the name of its benefactor, in this case a Mr. Solomon Sturgis. Among other duties, they served to protect Gen. McClellan in 1861. Babcock left a retrospective of his service, as well as long letters to an aunt. Later in life he was an architect--during the war, among other duties, he worked in the Provost Marshal's office in Washington and in the Secret Service headed up by Alan Pinkerton.

Describing his work in the Provost Marshal office in a December 26, 1861, letter gives a sense of what an operation "pass-issuing" was:

This has become one of the most important and responsible jobs of the government. No passes are granted without sufficient evidence of the loyalty of the applicant, who is required to come provided with a letter of recommendation either from the head of one of the “Departments” or other unquestionable authority…My duties as assistant consist in examining the references of the applicant and deciding from the evidence shown the propriety of granting a pass. From four to five hundred passes are issued daily, requiring the constant services of six clerks


In February 1862, he describes Alexandria after a short visit across the river:

I returned from Alexandria Va. last evening where I have been making a short visit. It never was a very thriving place, and I should judge the was was doing very little to enhance its prosperity. The seccsion sentiment there is virtually as strong as any city in the Southern Confederacy being only suppressed for fear of the consequences attending an open approval[?]. There is an occasional outbreak and only yesterday forenoon an episcopal clergyman was arrested in his church for uttering disloyal sentiments in the pulpit. In the morning prayer he substituted the name of President Jefferson Davis for President Abraham Lincoln as follows, And belss thy servant President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States and all others in authority and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, &c.

He is referring to an incident that took place at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, when the minister did as Babcock chronicled--although other reports note that the minister, a Rev. Stewart, was goaded by Union troops to speak as he did.

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