Last week, this column ran excerpts from a letter Civil War veteran Willmon Whilldin wrote to his family. The letter from the New Jersey volunteer, and later West Palm Beach mayor, arrived courtesy of Tom Dvorschak, who lived in Whilldin’s former Cape May, N.J., home.
Dvorschak sent a second letter, from Columbus, Ga., in which Whilldin describes for a local newspaper, Star of the Cape, his learning of the end of the war in April 1865:
“Approaching the camp, we shouted, ‘What’s up? What’s the matter? Has the army gone crazy? The war’s over!’ they shouted back. ‘Whoop! Whoop! Glory! Hallelujah!’ Said we, ‘You don’t say so!’ and springing from our horses, we caught the exultation and giving a whoop, unconsciously joined in the frenzied furor. The wildest commotion was exhibited on every hand. All appetite for supper was lost in the almost hysterical emotions of our flag’s brave defenders. The long fought issue settled! Victory won! Peace at last! No wonder the boys couldn’t eat.
“That thrilling message, ‘The war is over,’ came like a heavenly benediction to the boys in the blue. That night, the Confederates freely visited our camp. Human emotions are contagious, and the Johnnies soon took
the fever and gallantly helped to make memorable this time of general rejoicing. On that dark night, the old rebel yell rang out again, and rang its loudest yell for peace. The work of blood was done; meet fraternity here once more. The Confederates stayed with us all through that night.
When thoroughly exhausted and tired nature gave out, we lay down together, stretching our tired bodies ‘neath the dome of heaven, side by side, friends and brothers once more, dreaming perchance of going home, where a loving welcome awaited the Blue; where a welcome of love awaited the Grey.”
Tags: Civil War
In January, we ran a feature about the local chapter of Sons of Union Veterans trying to mark local graves of Civil War veterans. One, at Woodlawn Cemetery, was the plot of Willmon Whilldin, a private in the New Jersey Volunteers. The unit fought in skirmishes in Virginia before Whilldin was discharged for a disability on Aug. 16, 1862. He went on to be an early developer in Orlando and one of West Palm Beach’s first mayors. The story made its way to Tom Dvorschak, a New Jersey resident who lived in Whilldin’s former
home in Cape May, N.J., and has researched the man. Dvorschak said his grandparents bought the house in 1948 and it was bequeathed to him in 1989.
He sold it in 1999. Dvorschak sent us two letters Whilldin wrote to a hometown newspaper, Cape May Ocean Wave, from Maryland. Here’s an excerpt from the first, dated Dec. 20, 1861:
“For near four months past we have been in the service of our country, endeavoring to frustrate anything that would tend to help on this unjustifiable rebellion.
“Friends at home can scarcely imagine the hardship soldiers have to endure. Often times, after a long and wearisome march, they are compelled to be out during the damp, chilly nights, with nought but the cold earth for a bed, a stone for a pillow, and the sky for covering; but we cheerfully bear it all, and would rather fall at the cannon’s mouth than to see the blest abode of freemen rent in twain by fiend traitors, who are led on by high-minded Southern demagogues, who grieve at and seek to avenge the loss of power … The Cape May boys of the 7th Reg. are in fine spirits, robust and healthy, ready at a moment’s warning to meet the foe on the battlefield, and fight like freemen, or die like patriots.”
Next week: Witness to peace.
Tags: Civil War, special feature
Q: Do you know if either or both of the (Jupiter) lighthouse keepers kept their government jobs after the Civil War?
- Billy M. Rhodes, Titusville
A: The battle of the Jupiter Lighthouse, such as it was, cost both keepers their jobs. Confederate blockade-runners familiar with the waters didn’t need the light and didn’t want it revealing them to Union patrols.
Assistant keeper August Oswald Lang, a German immigrant who became a citizen of the Confederate States of America, ordered his boss, J.F. Papy, to surrender the lighting mechanism. Papy, loyal to his federal paycheck, said no, but was finally pressured into relinquishing the light.
The rebels hid the lamp, and it was recovered after the war. The lighthouse was relighted June 28, 1866.
Here’s the list of head keepers for that period, courtesy of the Loxahatchee River Historical Society: Capt. Thomas Twiner, head keeper, June 12, 1860 Jan. 1, 1861; Capt. Joseph F. Papy, head keeper, Jan. 1, 1861 August 1861. After the war: Capt. William B. Davis, head keeper, 1866-67; Capt. James Armour, assistant, 1866-68, head keeper, 1868-1908.
Loxahatchee River Historical Society: (561) 747-6639. Web site: www.jupiter lighthouse.org.
Tags: Civil War
Q: Were there any Civil War battles in Palm Beach County?
A: Just one, but it wasn’t much of one. It was the battle of the Jupiter Lighthouse. The light was established July 10, 1860. Gen. George Meade, who would later win the battle of Gettysburg, designed it to guide mariners over the treacherous shallows. During the Civil War, Confederate blockade-runners familiar with the waters didn’t need the light and didn’t want it revealing them to Union patrols. Assistant keeper August Oswald Lang, a German immigrant now a proud citizen of the Confederate States of America, ordered his boss to surrender the lighting mechanism. Keeper J.F. Papy, loyal to his federal paycheck, said no, but was convinced otherwise. The rebels hid the light, and it was recovered after the war. It was relighted June 28, 1866 and, except for a brief failure during the great 1928 hurricane and some electrical problems in the late 1980s, has sent its beam sweeping 18 miles across the dark seas ever since.
Read more: The History of Jupiter Lighthouse, by Bessie Wilson Dubois.
Florida History Center and Museum: (561) 747-6639. Delray Beach Historical Society: (561) 274-9578
Tags: Civil War