The following post is part of an ongoing series entitled Civil War Voices from Florida. Each day in October 2014, Florida Memory will post a document from the collections of the State Archives of Florida written exactly 150 years before that date, in October 1864.
Today we return to the diary of Wilbur Wightman Gramling, a Floridian soldier at a Union prisoner-of-war camp in Elmira, New York. In the previous entry we presented on October 1st, Gramling was concerned that he and his comrades would have trouble surviving the cold New York winter with their limited blankets and supplies. Today’s entry is short, but it sheds light on a very interesting relationship that appears to have helped with this problem.
Wednesday, Oct. 5, 1864. Weather remains the same. No news at all. Received a letter from and wrote to Mr. Desellum today. Taking names for clothing this evening. Health remains very good.
After searching other entries in the diary and related records, it appears Gramling was referring to a John T. Desellum of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Desellum was a slave owner, yet he opposed secession during the Civil War. When Confederate troops led by General Jubal Early marched through the area in July 1864, they confiscated foodstuffs, horses, and other property from Desellum’s plantation at Summit Hall.
How Desellum and Gramling came to know one another is not entirely clear. Before the war, John Desellum was engaged in a number of philanthropic works, including providing land for churches and serving on the board of a local school. It is possible that he and Gramling met while Gramling was recuperating from wounds at Union hospitals in Washington, D.C. Although Desellum had opposed secession, it appears he was involved to some extent in helping to provide badly needed supplies to Confederate prisoners of war. Gramling writes on at least two occasions in his diary that he was appealing to the Marylander for help. If our interpretation is correct, Gramling must have been forwarding requests from a number of his comrades at Elmira to Desellum.
This interesting episode illustrates the complexity of Union and Confederate sympathies during the Civil War. Too often we speak of the war as a battle between North and South, as though every person chose their side based on where they lived. Anti-secessionist John Desellum’s relationship with Wilbur Wightman Gramling reveals that a person could be both anti-secession and sympathetic to Confederate soldiers. After all, Maryland had been highly divided over the question of secession, and no doubt some of the Desellums’ friends and family had sons and brothers fighting in the war. Sometimes humanity outweighs politics.
Check out the related resources below for more information about Florida in the Civil War. Also, don’t forget to join us tomorrow on Civil War Voices from Florida as we check up on Confederate sailor Robert Watson.
Related Resources on Florida Memory:
- Florida Memory Learning Unit: Florida in the Civil War
- Florida Memory Exhibit: Distant Storm: Florida’s Role in the Civil War
Related Resources at the State Archives of Florida:
Related Resources in Print:
- Biographical Rosters of Florida’s Confederate and Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (find in a library near you!)
- Florida in the Civil War, by Nicholas Wynne and Robert Taylor (find in a library near you!)