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These Walls Do Talk: Civil War Signatures Discovered Beneath Layers of Wallpaper and Paint

In late 1861, Federal troops seized Beaufort, South Carolina, and occupied the city. Homes and other buildings abandoned by fleeing South Carolinians were commandeered. Officials turned 15 buildings into Union hospitals. One hospital was in a home belonging to one of Beaufort’s wealthiest citizens. To pass the time, soldiers doodled pictures and signed their names on the mansion’s plaster walls.

Civil War soldiers’ graffiti covers hospital wall

Over time, layers of wallpaper and paint covered the old plaster. When the home underwent historic preservation, the current owner made a remarkable discovery. The Civil War-era graffiti, now well over a century old, was still intact. Each uncovered signature tells a story. These soldiers were young and old. They came from all walks of life and for a moment in the early 1860s, their paths converged in a Beaufort Union hospital. Here are a few of their stories:

Charles Littleton Drum Corps

Charles H. Littleton served in the Pennsylvania 50th Regiment, Company F. He was born in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, the oldest son of immigrant parents. On September 28, 1861, 15-year-old Charles enlisted as a musician and drummer boy. He was described as 5’6” tall, with fair skin, blue eyes, and light hair. While sailing to Beaufort, 500 soldiers from the 50th were aboard the steamer Winfield Scott when she encountered a gale off the coast of North Carolina. Newspaper reports of the incident describe a mad scramble to toss everything overboard, including guns, knapsacks, and even overcoats. The soldiers frantically bailed water as the masts cracked and water poured in. Somehow, all survived, and Littleton made it to Beaufort.

At some point, Littleton was injured and wound up in the hospital, where he etched his name on the wall. After recovering sufficiently, Littleton reenlisted with the Kentucky 55th Regiment, Company F, in the Drum Corps. He suffered from numerous health issues, possibly tied to his original injury. After the war ended, Littleton married Caroline Able, and she gave birth to their daughter in 1868. Caroline died in 1892, and Littleton’s health challenges continued. By 1910 he was admitted to a Soldier’s Homes for the disabled. On December 12, 1912, Charles Littleton passed away in Marion, Indiana, at age 64. He is buried in the Marion National Cemetery.

James Valentine

James H. Valentine was born June 4, 1839, in Lancashire, England. He immigrated to the United States with his family, settling in Westerly, Rhode Island. On February 11, 1862, Valentine enlisted in the Third Rhode Island, Company A. His regiment was reorganized as The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in December 1861. The regiment saw service in South Carolina and Florida. While serving in South Carolina, Valentine was injured and sent to a Union hospital where he added his name to the hospital wall on June 10, 1862. In a book entitled Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, the author describes hospitals in Beaufort.

“Hospitals are essential accompaniments of armies; and we had excellent ones in the Department of the South. Those in Beaufort were large, airy, private residences that had been abandoned by their rebel owners, and were well supplied with stores, medical officers, and attendants.”

Valentine was discharged on February 11, 1865, at Hilton Head. He returned to Westerly where started his career as a house painter. He married Betsey Warren Burdick and in 1910, his census records show that he is living with Betsey and an adopted son. James died May 23, 1915, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Paul Brodie

Paul Brodie was born on February 28, 1839, in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Brodie and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York. In 1860, Brodie was living with his family and working as a stonecutter when he enlisted as a private in the New York 79th Infantry, Company F, on May 13, 1861. The 79th was comprised primarily of Scottish immigrants. The regiment received permission to wear traditional Scottish-style uniforms which consisted of tartan trousers, Glengarry bonnets, and kilts for military parades. They became known as the 79th Highlanders. By early December 1861, the Highlanders occupied Beaufort. Brodie received several military promotions during the war. He transferred to the Signal Corps and was eventually named Major Brevet. He received commendations for gallant and meritorious service.

In 1863, the newspaper The New South reported that Brodie was aboard the USS Pawnee when Confederate forces opened fire on the ship at close distance. Brodie was injured in the shoulder but continued to mount a defense. This may be the injury that landed Brodie in the hospital in Beaufort where he added his name to the wall. Following the war, Brodie was honorably discharged but stayed in Beaufort. He began a career as a draftsman and architect and continued to work for the government in the Department of the South. Brodie left Beaufort sometime around 1886. In 1888 he married Emma Esher in Philadelphia. They moved to Washington, D.C., where Emma gave birth to their son Ralph Brodie in 1889. Brodie continued to serve in government posts and was active in the G.A.R. He died in 1898 in Washington, D.C. Following his death, newspapers reported legal challenges to his pension benefits. Investigations revealed that Brodie married three times, and never legally divorced his second or third wife. The court ruled that all benefits belonged to his son. Brodie is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Franklin Wise

Franklin Wise was born in France in 1833. He immigrated to America and enlisted in the Pennsylvania 50th, Company F, on April 20, 1861. He listed his occupation as a boatman. His whole company was discharged after three months of service, and Wise reenlisted in the Pennsylvania 50th, Company C. He served in Beaufort, where according to military records, he received a significant wound. During his hospital stay, he added his name to the wall. On January 27, 1863, the surgeon discharged Wise for disability. In 1875, records show Wise still recovering in a soldier’s home in Dayton, Ohio, with no known relatives listed. In 1889, Wise married Elizabeth Ann Hayes in Licking, Ohio. In the 1890 Veteran’s Schedule, Franklin was living in Licking, and in 1891, Elizabeth gave birth to their son. In the 1900 and 1910 census records, Wise no longer lived with his wife and son. Franklin Wise died of pancreatic cancer on February 27, 1916, in Licking, Ohio

John Couhig

John Couhig (also known as John Cowhig) was born about 1835 in Ireland. At age 20, he immigrated to New York, and on May 13, 1861, enlisted as a private in the New York 79th Infantry, Company I (the Highlanders). Early in 1862, his regiment took part in the expedition to Port Royal Ferry. Couhig received an injury and spent time recovering in the hospital. While there, he scrawled “John Couhig Staten Island” on the wall. Couhig was released from the hospital and by September 1862, his regiment traveled to Sharpsburg, Maryland. Couhig participated in the Battle of Antietam and was killed on September 17, 1862. He is buried in the Antietam National Cemetery.

The plaster wall inside the old Union hospital contains many more names. Some are faded beyond recognition, and others contain soldier’s stories just waiting to be rediscovered. To begin your Civil War discoveries, search Fold3® today!

135 Comments

  1. Evangeline T O'Neal says:

    How wonderful what a historical find. I hope they never cover it up. Those men served during a very awful time in our country. Many were immigrants and only here a few years when they answered the call to serve. I had family that served on both sides of the Civil war it was a sad time in our country . This country has been through many wars and I pray some day they will come to a end. I also pray people will learn what it cost’s for our freedom it is not free . My parents served during WWII and my husband served in Vietnam when we had 3 children. My grandson has served for 18 years . My family have fought in every war some with Washington and some were Loyalist and moved to Canada. When you do genealogy you learn so much about a family and the people . I hope the family members of these Civil war soldiers will find their relatives names.

    • William Mahlmeister says:

      Have you ever seen the movie Cold Mountain. It take place during the Civil War. The young man is asked if he thinks God is on our side in the war to which he had the best reply-
      I imagine God is weary of being called down on both sides of an argument.

      That quote really struck me then and as I read your comment it imediatly came to mind.

  2. Karen A Taylor says:

    I hope they restore the wall and don’t cover the wall. What a great find. Hope someone from the families sees this article.

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  5. These stories mentioned the 1890 veterans schedule? My namesake gggrandfather was with Caycees Co., wounded at Cedar Mountain and sent to Richmond General Hospital #21. Is this someplace to look for him? He disappeared..I don’t know if he died?

    • diane kopke says:

      I believe most civil war records including widows pensions are stored in Washington DC at the national archives. There are indexes available to view on national archives website, and then you can order the file directly from them. I have gotten more Geneology info for my 2x great grandfather and mother from this file then from anything else. The widow pension has letters written from my 2xgreat grandmother and lists of all of her children and birthdates….where she grew up…where they lived……that my 2x great grandfather had a first wife who died in child birth (who knew)……..check it out

  6. William Mahlmeister says:

    Now this is amazing, history come to life!
    Thank Goodness the owner recognized the importance of such a find. Hopefully it will be photographed, cataloged and made available here on ancestry!

  7. Sylvester Oliver says:

    Goodness, what a great find. This war makes all of us who we are, why can’t people understand that this should have stopped all the unrest this country has. We should all want to honor those who gave themselves no matter what cause or side they represented. God Bless America

  8. diane kopke says:

    my great great grandfather James Anderson was there NY nineteenth regiment company I rifle infantry. He was from Scotland/ireland……..shipped out from Newburgh ny. Oh how I wish somebody would find his signature. Awesome story.