Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sharp Seeking Calvin

On my days off, when I'm not reading, I often pass the time watching old films on TCM. If they happen to be showing a movie that I've seen before, I sometimes browse digital editions of nineteenth century newspapers, while the movies serve as background noise. Not a real exciting way to pass the time, but it can be educational. Well, anyway, that was the scene yesterday evening as I waited for the Oklahoma-Auburn game to get going.

During my online time travel through the headlines of 1862, I happened upon the above advertisement, which appeared in the May 30, 1862, issue of the Petersburg Daily Express. In it Confederate soldier Private Albert T. Sharp, of the Third Alabama Infantry, sought to reclaim his slave Calvin, who likely served Sharp as a camp servant. This practice was not at all uncommon. Calvin likely saw his owner's lack of vigilance as an opportunity to attempt to gain his freedom.

Pvt. Sharp left Calvin in Petersburg to recover from an undisclosed illness while Sharp was stationed at Drury's Bluff, which is located on the James River, between Petersburg and Richmond. The two weeks between leaving Calvin in Petersburg, and then finding him absconded, gave the enslaved man a significant amount of time to make his getaway. One has to wonder if Calvin was pretending to be sick as part of plan of escape.

I am almost always curious to learn more about the actors in these historical dramas, so I searched the 1860 census for Albert T. Sharp. He was located living in the household of his father, William, in Montgomery County, Alabama. Sharp the younger was eighteen years old in 1860. His noted occupation was farmer. William Sharp was sixty years old. The elder Sharp was a native of North Carolina. He likely immigrated to Alabama with a serious case of "cotton fever" during the previous decades. William Sharp owned seventeen slaves. Not a huge holding, but they certainly added up to a significant part of his $40,000 in personal property.

Albert Sharp enlisted in Company H of the Third Alabama Infantry Regiment in Lowndesboro, Alabama, two months before this advertisement ran. Pvt. Sharp's father probably allowed Albert to take one of the family slaves with him to the front to do camp chores like cooking, laundry, and other fatigue duties. Since Calvin's age is not listed in the runaway advertisement, it is difficult to match him to one of the slaves listed in the census as being owned by William Sharp. However, the census lists several male slaves in the sixteen to twenty-five year old age range that was common for camp servants.

I do not know if Pvt. Albert Sharp ever reclaimed Calvin, or if the enslaved man made good on his flight. However, Sharp was likely preoccupied when the advertisement ran. His regiment was part of Huger's Division who were held in reserve on May 31 at the Battle of Seven Pines, which was fought just east of Richmond. The following day, June 1, the Third Alabama saw significant fighting. The regiment's colonel was killed as well as thirty-seven other members of the unit. The regiment also lost 122 men were wounded, including its lieutenant colonel, Cullen A. Battle. Sharp apparently made it through the fray unscathed. He was not as fortunate a little later though. His records are conflicting, but either on June 20 or on June 27, 1862, he was wounded. One record says "accidentally." After Sharp's wounding he received a furlough of undetermined length of time to go back home to Alabama to recover.

If Sharp did catch Calvin, he likely came in handy as a nurse, as Sharp's service records indicate that he spent considerable time in various hospitals around Richmond dealing with different illnesses in 1862, 63, and 64. Sharp was captured at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on August 4, 1864. His service records noted he "deserted." Sharp and the Third Alabama were part of Jubal Early's forces that raided into Maryland and briefly threatened Washington D.C. that summer. Perhaps he wandered away from the column and was captured, or perhaps he did actually call it quits and deserted. Regardless, he was confined at Fort Delaware until he was release on May 5, 1865, after taking the oath of allegiance.

If Calvin made good on his freedom quest, I wonder if he and his former owner ever met up again back in Alabama. If so, was Albert resentful? Or did his military service provide him with an opportunity to appreciate a different perspective. I wonder.

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