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

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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. Stacey Lee-Ramirez says:

    Absolutely heart stopping to see these young men’s names and to know they were standing right in those spots when they carved their names. It’s unbelievably sad. How wonderful to have discovered them and to share it with us all. Thank you.

  2. Keith Fowler says:

    Fascinating article. Thank you. It is amazing the level of penmanship exhibited by these troops in the “graffiti”.

    • Michele Klika says:

      I also thought something similar: “Look at that fancy signatures. What fine handwriting.”

  3. Lynn Terry says:

    My second great grandfather’s name will never be written on a wall as he was illiterate.

    • Jayne Reed says:

      Take heart. A lot of functionally illiterate people learned to sign their names in ornate script, like drawing a picture. My grandfather did that.

  4. Sylvia Uren says:

    Thank you for sharing these memories and research that you have done on these brave soldiers, find these stories fascinating always hoping to someday come across some of my ancestors that fought in the war.

    • Silva says:

      I never expected to, no one in my family ever spoke of that conflict though they never spoke about WWIs &II or Korea with me either, but I found a surprising number of them by joining Ancestry.com.

  5. george M. White says:

    I glad someone is trying to preserve this history. I go to Beaufort often and never knew this existed. Thank you for this story.

  6. Colleen King says:

    What a wonderful “find”. My Great Grandfather served twice, once for himself and then again for his Pastor. My Great Grandmother was the widow of a soldier killed in the Civil War.

  7. Wonderful historical discovery

  8. Adrienne says:

    Absolutely amazing. If I owned that home, I would either leave the wad as is and put preservation glass over it, or I would put the wall up for sale to museums! Priceless!

  9. Linda says:

    Very good article with pictures. I need to tell you of another one near where I live. It is in Brandy Station, Virginia. It is a house that was used by the military and the walls are covered in names and historical events. They have a docent there that takes you through the two-story house and points out some signatures with historical insight. It is very interesting and thought provoking.

  10. Russ Hamm says:

    Seeing these amazing photographs reminds me of an imaging software program called “DStretch” that has been used to uncover hard-to-read pictographs on rocks, as well as faint writings on ancient Egyptian walls and sarcophagi. One might be able to extract more info from the fainter areas of inscription on this wall. Thanks for the article!

  11. Hunt Lewis, Hampton Roads Naval Museum Docent says:

    A large collection of Civil War graffiti was found at Fort Norfolk many years ago and transcribed. Most of the graffiti was produced by captured Civil War blockade runners. Some of it would today be considered “x-rated.”

    The transcription with reproduced artwork can be viewed at https://www.historicforrest.com/HistoricFortNorfolk/graffiti/graffitiIndex.html

  12. Sharon Cunningham says:

    I LOVE THIS STORY! Just think of the days… and sometimes, weeks… those young men spent in those hospitals. And, THANK GOD, the subsequent owners of that particular house kept those precious memories… for us!

  13. This discovery of a place and time during the Civil War are stunning. My ggreat grandfather was likely in a similar situation in the Quarles Hospital in Bay Minette, AL following his transport from the siege and surrender of Vicksburg, MS. The Quarles hospital no longer exists. The discovery of the graffiti at Beaufort is the end result of a series of amazing events that descendants of Civil War veterans like myself yearn for. Pvt. Samuel McCamish. I will likely never know for certain if he died en route to Mobile (Samuel’s destination according to his muster record) or later nearby in Quarles Hospital.

    • Is this tha Pat Donovan that I know? I am Celeste Graves and deep into genealogy since the 50s but have to study it again to get back to working on my lines!

  14. Marion F Connell says:

    Quite sure at least one of my ancestors spent time on Hilton Head and in Beaufort. They would have been in a Connecticut regiment with either the surname Fitch or Gammons. Now I am inspired to do further research. Thanks for this wonderful posting.

  15. Rosemary Tomljenovic says:

    My third great grandfather, George Riley Davis, who fought with the Georgia militia, was killed in Tennessee 1873.

  16. Patricia Calwell says:

    I am a native Atlantan. In 1969 after graduating from Auburn University, I was traveling back to Atlanta from Charleston, S.C. where I had been visiting a former roommate and sorority sister. The people I was riding with stopped in Beaufort to dig for old bottles. I was left to wander around this enchanting town and came upon the house you have mentioned. There was a lady having tea in the yard and after I complimented her on the beauty of her home, she invited me to join her for tea and a tour of her home. I was fascinated with her tale of the ´Yankee Hospital’. I remember her showing me a Louis Quinze table upon which the Yankees had carved a checkerboard. Of course, at that time there were no signatures on the walls showing then, as the family still lived there. From 1861 until the end of the war there were many brave men (and women), who fought to the death to protect their families from both sides of the conflagration. She also told me there was a picture of the house in the Madrid (Spain) airport. Thank you so much for your interesting article.

  17. Bernadine Antoinette Lennon says:

    Is there a list of soldier’s names that are on the wall?

  18. In 2005, a woman rehabbing an old building in Winchester, Va. uncovered graffiti from, among others, my g-g-grandfather and his brother-in-law, my g-g-grand uncle, who both served in the 22nd Iowa Infantry. What a thrill! Still the most immediate link I have to either of them. I’m told she preserved all the graffiti under plexiglass.

  19. Kathy Valentine says:

    It always astounds me when I see the name Valentine! Although he is not related to me, he may be related to my son-in-law who is also a Valentine. His family is English and settled in Ohio. I got a kick out of seeing that James Valentine married Betsey Warren. I have a friend of that name and today is her birthday! There was a reason I read your blog today and I found it fascinating.

    • Amy Mowery says:

      The name Betsey Warren Burdick caught my attention because I’m related to a family of Burdick’s that are also from Rhode Island. Is the name “Burdick” from a previous marriage? Is the name Warren her maiden name? I found this article very interesting and helpful to those working on genealogy.

  20. Chris Lyddy says:

    What an amazing piece of history uncovered! priceless to so many. My 2nd Great Grandfather was wounded at Cold Harbor, and died of his injuries some 5 years later. While I don’t believe he engaged in battle this far south, I wonder if his thoughts and name are etched somewhere else, waiting to be discovered.
    Thank you for the history…its so important!

  21. Sharon Cossaboon says:

    Amazing find! Makes you wonder how many other houses around the country might contain similar things.

  22. Linda Scheer says:

    Incredible story of the men that served in the Civil War. The finding of the walls with there names is an outstanding find to be treasured forever.

  23. Debbie Cotter says:

    Thank you. Fascinating. My great grandfather, Cornelius John Cotter, was part of the Pennsylvania 50th but I’m not sure of the company. I will have to check out his records obtained from the National Archives decades ago.

  24. Janet Schroeder says:

    With all the archaeological tools out there these days, I’m pretty certain they can retrieve a whole lot more information and drawings off those walls. They do it in the ancient tombs (photography/lighting, etc). Looking foward to learning of more discoveries.
    It’s all facinating…thank you.

  25. James Yager says:

    So many were recent immigrants. We are a country of immigrants and to this day immigrants from all nationalities continue to make significant contributions to our country.

  26. Linda Oster says:

    Thank you for sharing. Sometimes we forget that battles we see in history books were real people who were fighting for their beliefs. Our freedoms have been won and preserved by their suffering. We should not forget this ever!

  27. Perhaps all of this should be just painted over, you know sorta like taking down Confederate Monuments?????

    • Linda Cash Kriss says:

      Our American history is just that – our history. Covering it up does not change what happened. Let’s just make sure we do not repeat the reason for that war.

    • Sandra Jaquet Miller says:

      We should not do things like that. It is part of history. We can not go back and rewrite history of how it was at the time. We must remember the times or how else will the younger generation learn from past mistakes.

    • Linda,

      That is true, but it seems every day a Confederate monumnet, name etc comes under attack

    • Sandra,

      History is being rewrote on a daily basis. and has been for years. Just think of all the narratives claiming Southerners were racist, fighting for slavery or traitors. None of that is true.

      What mistake????

    • Lavonne says:

      Monuments are usually created by the current political groups in town, county, state. Voted on by groups desiring to mark their leanings or interests. Signatures, comments, etc. left by soldiers are a window into the actual times. So , non-political, just observations of everyday people during a time of distress in their lives and the country. These markings should be preserved and enjoyed.

    • Darcy says:

      It’s not even close to the same circumstances. Black Americans were unjustly persecuted for their color, after being captured, sold, and worked to death by slave owners. The Confederate monuments recall the glory days of that confederacy, which thought that the mistreatment of their black slaves was justified and should continue.
      Think again.

    • Lavonne,
      Not true, nearly all Confederate Statues and monuments were put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons. In some cases monuments were put up by schools to honor their students who went to war. Each and every statue or monument is to honor the brave men who fought. Now name me one Confederate monument put up by a political group.

    • Darcy,

      You don’t know much about factual history do you. Blacks owned slaves, The United States Flag flew over all slave ships, most all slave traders were Yankees. Blacks also served the Confederacy. Skin color had nothing to do with being a slave. It was their ability to work in the heat. Whites, Asians, and Indians have also been slaves. Oh and by the way, Blacks were mistreated by the Yankees, Jim Crow started in the North and Lincoln was a racist.

      Read up learn some facts.

  28. Lavonne Cook says:

    I would love to see these walls! It is so stirring to read about them. Whether on one side or the other it has to reach your heart and love our country more that we could come through a time like this and survive to be better person and keep supporting our way of life and glad to offer it to others. I hope they didn’t cover up the walls, but kept them open for all people to look at in wonder. Thank you for sharing this story.

  29. J Lundquist says:

    This is so interesting. Is it possible for further research using the methods used for researching the White Shaman Mural in Texas? They used laser mapping and high-resolution panoramic photography to bring out detail.
    https://www.archaeology.org/issues/274-1711/features/5996-reading-the-white-shaman-mural

  30. Jen Sage-Robison says:

    This is fascinating and as opposed to granite statues of generals on horses in the middle of towns glorifying a cause that oppressed a people, this glorifies nothing. It doesn’t wash over any harsh realities, rather it helps illuminate what it might have been like to be stuck in a hospital with nothing much to do. It is something to be learned from. It’s also on private property. Thank you for sharing.

    • Really?? That is all you know right? Now who was oppressed?

      The harsh realities is the Yankees came to the South and destroyed towns, stole everything they could cart away murdered people and raped women. Race didn’t matter to them.

  31. Tara Beiter-Fluhr says:

    Which hospital is the graffiti in?

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Hi Tara, out of respect for the owner we didn’t list which hospital. It is a privately owned home.

  32. Anita Guinn says:

    Fascinating information. No actors and not a movie. Very real and very raw.

  33. Wow! What a wonderful find. Amazing stories.

  34. Nancy Zawacki says:

    My great, great grandfather served with the 11th Illinois Cavalry. That regiment served mostly in the west but I believe came east with Sherman/Sheridan.

  35. Susan K Holker says:

    I have goosebumps all over !!! Thank you for this marvelous story. I felt like I was there with those soldiers. Now I am wondering if any of my 2X GG or family could have been there. The importance of maintaining and restoring our history is essential. Deep down we all want to know where we came from.
    As I grew up in San Antonio, Texas I learned about the Alamo and The Battle of San Jacinto. Field trips to each was a regular occurrence through grade school. Being born in 1958 surrounded by Fort Sam Houston, Lackland and Randolph Air Force Base was thrilling for me. Many a soldier had meals with us.
    Because of AncestryDNA, Fold 3 & Newspapers I was able to uncover the story of where I came from. Thus, solving the 18-year mystery of who my biological father was.
    A recent graduate of Yale in 1957, a young man joined the Airforce on Dec 7, 1957. Arrived in San Antonio from Buffalo, New York for basic training at Lackland AFB soon after. Apparently, he knew my parents, also from Buffalo. Knowing my mom and dad, he was most welcome for a barbeque and cocktails on the weekend.
    Because of Newspapers.com I found an article in the Allentown, Pa newspaper dated Jan 11, 1958. Low and behold my father was in New York the day before, winning second place in a promotional contest. There was no mistaking my dad, JLK Jr from San Antonio, Wonderland Shopping Center had won second place as described by the article. No jet planes back then.
    That was my ah ha moment. I was born Oct 5, 1958. I have to thank my brother a marine for connecting the dots. He knew that since the USAF was conceived 75 years ago, all new recruits have basic training at Lackland AFB. That remains true to this day.
    Sadly, my biological father died at age 44 of MS in Buffalo, NY 1979. I lost my dad in 2005 & my mom a year later (they divorced when I was 4) My half-sister who had her DNA done for “kicks” did save my sanity. Without her test I would still be totally lost & ill. Unfortunately, she has chosen not to accept me. She did ask me “Did your father know about you” My response was “We will never know”.
    The cruel words of a mother screaming “Your father isn’t your father” began the physical & mental illnesses I suffered until 2019. Equipped with the truth I began to heal inside and out. Amazingly I feel better now than I did at age 30.
    I can’t even imagine sailing thousands of miles across the sea in search of a better life. I recently revisited my early tree and found new hints from Fold3. My maternal grandfather’s father arrived in New York in 1860. Later that year he became a father. Then joined the Union in 1861 leaving my 2XGG alone. Thankfully he returned and their next child was born in 1866.
    I continue to work on my family tree and am awestruck every time something exciting and new comes up. This story is one of those times.
    I have always lived with the glass half full; this is what keeps me wanting to learn about the past. As we keep learning the hard way, history always repeats itself. Sempre Fi
    Lastly, on June 21, 2019 I was going through my baby book and found my biological father DID know about me. His name was the first visitor to see me at our home. He brought candy and a bottle of bourbon as a gift. My mom spelled out his full birth name along with his nickname “Jay” with asterisks on each ending. My mother and dad died before DNA testing began. My mother carried the secret to her grave, and my dad never knew I wasn’t his. I do wonder if my biological father was in Vietnam. And I wish I had a picture of him.

    • Mary Anne Agan says:

      Talk about stories, this one is awesome as far as I am concerned. Thanks for sharing.

  36. Crete Carey says:

    beautiful story.

  37. Rob Hilton says:

    I live in Beaufort, SC and was not aware of this discovery. If I didn’t know then a lot of my friends probably don’t know. I plan to share on our Classic Car & Truck Club Beaufort as well as our email list. I visit the Beaufort National Cemetery quite often as I am a veteran and my brother is interned there as well. A lot of Civil War veterans are buried there and it would be interesting if some of the names match grave sites. I will have to explore this more with the Historical Society.

  38. […] Union soldiers hospitalized during the Civil War sometimes took the opportunity to write their name on a wall in the commandeered home/hospital. Now that the names have been found, they’re also being researched. See the amazing images! […]

  39. Gerald Gordon says:

    O ur family member, Pat. George Ethridge, Co. H, 35th Reg, USCT, was injured and sent to this Hospital . He was discharged on 19th June 1865, with military discharge. Paid in full, no bounty.

  40. Gerald Gordon says:

    Our family member, Pvt. George Ethridge, Co. H, 35th Reg, USCT, was injured and sent to this Hospital . He was discharged on 19th June 1865, with military discharge. Paid in full, no bounty.

  41. Stephanie Hodges says:

    Everyone has a story. Amazing discovery. Thank you for sharing! I hope whoever now owns the home will figure out a way to protect the doodles and display them as part of their decor.

  42. Dan Silva says:

    As a man who grew up in The Boston area, we were taught about the Civil as it related to our area . Not given much more thought about it until we came south and attended several seminars about the Civil war as it related to Beaufort.
    Quite fascinating …
    Beaufort has so much history to share.
    What a great find. The truth to talking walls…

  43. Susan Sorg says:

    Wow!!! I scanned it as best as I could to see if an ancestor was there…don’t think so, but certainly was worth looking for it.
    These kinds of stories are just fabulous, and what make the past come alive.

    Thank you!

  44. Sheri Hart says:

    Both my husband (USMC) and myself (USN) served and lived in Beaufort. It is where we met and I had my first child. We stayed in an antebellum home for our 20th Anniversary. The room we stayed in had soldiers names etched into the fireplace. We have a many ancestors that fought in the Civil War, and this was so cool to us and made our stay that more special

  45. John Banka says:

    Tremendous.

  46. Martyn Valentine says:

    It’s fascinating to see another Valentine. I’m from the UK and trying to find out more about my family tree. There are some Valentines in my family tree in Canada and some may have headed south.

  47. Stephen Smith says:

    A beautiful and well researched article. I recently discovered that my 22 year old great uncle joined a regiment in Ohio and was killed by a musket ball in the final battle in Atlanta. His grave is in Marieta GA. I had no idea. Thanks Ancestry.com

  48. Dana Adams says:

    Do you have the photos of the walls in Riddick’s Folly in Suffolk, VA. This house was the headquarters for the Union and there was a hospital there.

  49. Ruth A. Volanakis says:

    Fascinating. Having lived in an old New England farmhouse in Brookfield MA my historical intrigue was peaked by a disturbing craggy Civil War crutch which remained with the two hundred plus year old farmhouse.

    Two brothers lived in this home during the 1850’s plus circa. When the Civil War broke out, one brother fought for the North and the other for the South.

    The craggy Civil War crutch came home with the brother who fought for the South. Only imagination fills the gaps war causes in family pride, disappointment and hurt.

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