Excerpts from the autobiographical notes of Captain Charles Albertson composed after his retirement from the New York City Police Department in 1905.
Some Incidents of Travel
Civil War Reunions and Other Stories
On my first trip to Florida in the early part of February 1912, as I entered the balcony of the Assembly Chamber of the State House in Richmond, Virginia, the Speaker of the House was introducing two members of Assembly from the Pennsylvania Legislature, who were there to invite the Confederate veterans of Virginia to take part in the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the Blue and the Gray at Gettysburg in July 1913. The speaker when introducing them said much that was pleasant and patriotic and the visitors replied very eloquently, cutting very close to some dangerous corners. A bill was immediately introduced, the object being to supply transportation for the veterans to and from the reunion. This bill went through a special procedure and was ready to go to the Senate in a few minutes. Had there been one vote of objection, it would have required days to have brought it about. This occurred in the room where the Confederate Congress had convened fifty years before.
I visited this meeting of the Blue and the Gray at Gettysburg which was one of the most important events of my life. Many things of great interest occurred during that eventful meeting. Two of the old boys, one from the North and one from the South became chummy, purchased a hatchet and walked a mile to the summit of Little Round Top where they had fought each other and buried the hatchet. I accompanied a member of the Louisiana Tigers out through the lane from one of the main streets in Gettysburg where the fence boards were still thickly perforated with bullet holes, down around behind a ridge opposite Culp’s Hill, and up over the ridge to near where Hancock’s heroic equestrian statue now stands. There they fought a battery manned by Pennsylvania Germans. When we arrived at one of the guns, which was the same gun and in the same place that it was at the time of the battle, one of the gunners of this piece during the battle was standing near it. The two men fought each other there. The Tiger with the butt of his musket and the gunner with the rammer of his gun. Fifty years after, they met at the same place.
The Tigers started out seventeen hundred strong and when that particular raid or movement was over and they were forced back, there were so many killed, wounded and missing that they ceased to exist as an organization. They were distributed about. Many years ago a French Artist painted a picture of the battle of Gettysburg. The largest painting ever produced, known as the Cyclorama of Gettysburg. Two duplicates were painted. They were shown all over the world. One was burned and worn out. One is permanently located in a large building in Gettysburg. You view it from an elevation at a point on the battlefield where Pickett’s charge was stopped. From this place the field is seen in all directions. During the reunion, a number of the Southern boys were standing on this elevation and one pointed to w here he had been in the charge. Pointing to a place in the fence he said, “When I arrived at that point a Yankee jabbed his bayonet into my shoulder.” One of the boys who was standing by my side said to him, “What happened then?” “He grabbed me and pulled me over the fence making me a prisoner.” “What happened then?” “He took me over by Mead’s headquarters.”
After some more conversation they were both fully convinced that they had met on that occasion, one as captor, the other as prisoner. The Confederate was sent to the prison in Elmira. There were many similar incidents. Mr. Frank Channo wrote a book called “Hand Clasps” which described many of these peculiar events. This reunion cost the government a large amount of money, but it was one of the best investments that it was possible to make. It did much to chase away old animosities and hatred. It was a family quarrel and in cases of that kind the least said the better.
The Unveiling of the Pennsylvania Memorial Monument
In the month of September 1910, I visited the battlefield of Gettysburg the first time, arriving there on the 24th late in the evening and had rooms with Conductor Garvin who had charge of the train we went on from Harrisburg. His house was on the Chambersburg Pike a block beyond John Burn’s home. I was up at the break of day and went out a short distance to the top of a rise in the Pike where you turn to the left to go to the Seminary. This elevation where I stood was the crown of Seminary Ridge. Two men were standing in the middle of the road talking. One aged and well dressed, the other not so old and dressed in overalls. As I came up, the latter entered a house on the corner. I inquired from the other man if he was acquainted with that vicinity. The following in substance was his reply.
I was here a private in a Pennsylvania regiment at the time of the battle. On the first day in the forenoon my regiment was over near that piece of wood where General Reynolds was killed. We were forced back and I was wounded just beyond that little run. As the enemy advanced I was wounded twice by Union bullets fired at the Confederates. Soon after noon I was brought up to that barn which was near, by some Union soldiers who had been taken prisoners that morning and were compelled to do this work under guard. This barn was a Confederate field hospital. Here I received first aid treatment and was later carried into the house and placed on the kitchen floor near a stairway leading to the second story. Later in the day, General Lee arrived and made this house his headquarters, using the front room for his office.
I was for some time in a semi-conscious condition but the third day my mind became perfectly normal. Three times during the third day, General Lee passed through the kitchen, stepped over my legs and went up to the attic where they had broken a hole in the roof where he could get a view of the field. This small stone house was up even with the Confederate line of battle, but most of the fighting occurred farther to the southeast.
My informant whose name was Ernest Ohl, if I remember correctly, had a wonderful memory and impressed me as a truthful man. He heard Lee’s conversation with his subordinates for one whole day after he regained consciousness, as the door between the rooms was open all of the time. He was supposed to be unconscious or dead. I would give a good sum to have a copy of his statement as it would have settled several things that there has been much controversy about. He heard Lee order his corps commanders to retreat on the evening of the third day. The following day he was taken to the home of a Gettysburg family and left with many others who were so badly wounded that they could not be moved under the care of Army Surgeons. Mr. Ohl was at death’s door for several months.
In this family was a young girl who spent much of her time giving the wounded soldiers something to drink. She had grown to be a woman long ago and was married to the man in the overalls that Mr. Ohl was talking to when I came up. This man and his wife lived in the house on the corner that Mr. Ohl had presented to them. He was a bachelor and employed in the War Department in Washington and spent his vacation each year with his friends at their home opposite Lee’s headquarters.
When I visited Gettysburg again in 1913 at the reunion of the Blue and the Gray, I called at the house mentioned above and inquired for Mr. Ohl from his girl nurse of 63, and she informed me that he had been buried in Gettysburg three weeks before and left her and her husband the little savings of his life time. That he had looked forward to the reunion not expecting to take his vacation until then. He was there. It was unfortunate that his recollections were not taken down, perhaps they were, if so I have never seen any record as he was probably the only witness to that great historic event from the Union side.
In the Gettysburg cemetery near the grave of Old John Burns and his wife there is a grave with an inscription on the head stone reading: Frederic Huber, private so and so killed at the battle of Fair Oak May 11, 1863. At the battle of Gettysburg a piece of shell broke the stone into several pieces which are fastened together with metal fastenings. They would not let him rest in peace.
The Pennsylvania Memorial was unveiled Tuesday, September 27, 1910. On the Sunday afternoon previous, I visited the memorial in company with Captain S. D. Barnum and his daughter Lillian. Captain Barnum was a member of the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and wounded at the Peach Orchard on the second day. The names of all of the Pennsylvania infantry present at the battle appear on bronze tablets on the outside. After nearly all had gone, just before dark, the soldier guard permitted several of us to go up inside. Captain Barnum’s father-in-law was a member of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. When we found the tablet of this regiment, Miss Barnum pointed to her grandfather’s name – Joseph R. Horton. A man standing at her side said, “A one-legged man?” She said, “Yes.” He then said, “I amputated his leg at the battle of Sailors Creek.” Dr. J. W. DeWitt, who was at that time, Chief Sanitary Officer of the State of Delaware.
Trip Across the Continent
In the year 1918, I made a trip across the Continent passing over or through the Cascade Range by the Great Northern Railway. When well up the mountain, a man boarded the train and occupied a seat with me. Later he related the following peculiar incident.
Several years previous, he had herded a vast number of sheep on the east side of the range. About five years before he had sold his sheep and retired from the business. Six months before this date, having lost all of his money but twenty five thousand dollars, he purchased a flock of sheep for fifty thousand, paying his twenty five thousand and agreeing to pay the remainder in thirty days. He had banked in Seattle for several years, frequently having large sums on deposit, and had borrowed as fifty thousand several times. When he went to the bank and requested a loan of twenty five thousand, he met with refusal. This placed him in a very serious position for he might lose his deposit. All of his arguments failed to obtain the loan. Finally, the bank president said, “Are you acquainted with hermit so and so?” This was an old man who had resided all alone with his two dogs in a comfortable shack well up on the east side of the Cascade Range for many years. It was an entire days ride on horse back from the nearest habitation. He was an educated gentleman. He informed the banker that he was well acquainted with him having lodged with him many times when his flocks were feeding in that vicinity. The banker said “Go and see him, perhaps he can help you.” He thought it was a joke, but went as there was nothing else he could do and he was in serious trouble.
The train carried him over the mountain, where he secured a horse and rode all day, arriving there at twilight, very fearful that his friend might not be there, as he had not been there for some time. The old man received him cordially. They had supper then he went carefully over the financial proposition. His host asking many questions, indicating that he was a skilled financier. He finally tore a piece from a paper sack, scribbled on it with a pencil, something unreadable and said, “Take that to the bank and I think they will help you.” The following morning he started back to the bank with his unreadable piece of paper fearing it was all a joke. When he arrived at the bank, he gave the piece of paper bag to the president and received the very much needed twenty five thousand dollars. Who was the recluse?
We visited Portland, Oregon to attend the National Reunion of the G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic] arriving there Sunday night. At the large reception hall, the first one of the committee I met was a Mr. Adams, a Broadway merchant. I had not seen him for nineteen years, he having been there all that time.
Keegan, Flynn and the “Tub of Blood”
I traveled two entire days in the Sacramento Valley with the temperature 114. When we came down near to San Francisco, the conductor jokingly said, “Keep up your courage, you will have your coats on in a minute.” When we arrived where the wind reached us through the Gate, the thermometer went down to sixty-five in ten minutes.
I stopped at Oakland the following morning and being quite quite sick, went to Fabiola Hospital and was placed in a ward as the place was crowded. The following fore noon, having fully recovered, got up and dressed and, while waiting for Miss Davenport my doctor to come and discharge me, I spun some yarns to cheer up the patients. The man in the bed next to where I had been called me to his bed and wanted to know if I recognized him. This was impossible, for he had been hurt while working in the ship yards and blood poison had set in and his head was swollen twice its natural size. I informed him that I could not. He said that his name was Keegan and when I was in command of Mulberry Street, he attended the door at 100 Bowery from one to five A.M., which was prohibited hours, and Sundays.
The place he mentioned was the toughest in New York. It was owned by a one legged man known as the Peg Leg Flynn who was a desperate character and a prominent politician. The dive was known as the “Tub of Blood.” Keegan said that I came very near getting Flynn in the act of committing murder one night. I was passing when there was trouble in the hallway. I broke open the door and grabbed Flynn in the dark. Some one shouted “Police!” and the crowd inside rushed out and in the confusion I lost Flynn. I did not know whom I had until Keegan told me. Flynn had robbed a man who was drunk and while putting him out hit him in the head with a bottle and he died in a hospital soon after. At the Coroner’s inquest, several swore that the man was hurt in a free for all fight. Keegan also informed me that Flynn offered him one thousand dollars to kill me and had he known in time the night I broke in he would have earned the thousand. Flynn died about 1914 or 1915.
The Brewster Sisters
On this trip across the continent, I visited Colorado Springs and while there motored to many places of interest. When at Williams Canyon, nearly all of the visitors went up the long stairway to observe the seven falls come tumbling down. Two ladies who were near me were having an animated argument relative to where the Museum of Art in New York City was located.
They were both in error as regards the location. I volunteered to tell them where it was. They were evidently in the habit of debating relative to locations of interest in the great City, for they asked me many questions. The younger of the two remarked that I was well versed on N.Y. City. I replied that I should be, fore I was a member of the Police Department there for many years. She then said, “Were you acquainted with Inspector Albertson?” I replied that “I should be as I had been in his company continually for more than sixty years.” Mrs. Brewster then recognized me, having lived in Waverly and visited my library which was open to the public many times.