There is no denying that the patriotic spirit swept away the vast majority of the citizens living north of the Mason Dixon line when southern states began seceding from the Union in the early months of 1861—especially after the firing on Fort Sumter in mid-April. But there were a substantial number of citizens in the North who despised Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” who came into office, threatening the very foundation of the republic. Maintaining neutrality on the matter was no easy thing; men were forced to decide what they valued most—the “Union” or the “sovereign right of each state” to govern itself.
In this extremely rare letter, a resident of Newark, New Jersey, expresses his support to the people of South Carolina for their secession from the Union and offers the services of a militia unit composed of men from New Jersey to Governor F. W. Perkins of South Carolina in the fight for the Southern cause. He signed the letter, “Samuel Tromore, Captain of the Palmetto guards” but this was undoubtedly a fabricated name designed to conceal his identity, for such an action—taking up, or even offering to take up arms, against the U. S. Government—would have been considered an act of treason, punishable by imprisonment or death.
So who could have written this letter? No doubt the secrecy with which these men conducted their meetings and communicated with each other would present a formidable challenge to answering this question. A search of the newspapers at the time resulted in one favorable clue, however. An article appearing in the Trenton State Gazette on 11 October 1861 under the heading, “Rebel Recruiting in Newark–Curious Letter” reveals the content of a letter signed by “J. B.” who admits that, “I sign in cypher for fear of accident, as that would not pay just now.” The letter contends that his “recruits” still stand ready to fight for the Confederacy but they are unwilling to do so without “six months pay in advance.” After publishing the entire transcript of the intercepted letter, the piece ends asking, “Can anybody tell us whether the ‘twenty-eight’ recruits referred to in this letter were members of the ‘Palmetto Guard’ of which the editor of the Newark Evening Journal—now the organ of the Breckinridge candidate for Mayor—was the captain?”
This leads us to conclude it was generally understood by most New Jerseyites that Edward N. Fuller, editor of the Newark Evening Journal was the captain of the (by then) not-so-secret Palmetto Guards. It’s interesting to note that the pre-Fort Sumter number of recruits—150—had fallen considerably in the 6 months that followed. By October 1861, hundreds of citizens had been thrown into jail for expressing pro-Southern sympathies or conducting suspicious treasonous activities. By examining the back of the letter, we notice that Gov. Pickens directed his clerk, Col. Frank Moses to respond negatively to the offer made by the New Jerseyites (but thanking them for their “patriotism”).
Edward N. Fuller (1824-1904) was a career newspaper editor. His star began to rise when he championed the election of Franklin Pierce while editor of the New Hampshire Gazette. By 1857, Fuller had moved to Newark and started the Evening Journal which would become one of the leading Copperhead publications. “Fuller was the most strident antiwar voice in New Jersey. He was phobic in his hatred of Lincoln, and he denounced with equal fervor abolitionists, blacks, Republicans, and what he saw as tyrannical efforts to muffle antiwar protects and freedom of the press.” [This Honorable Court, by Mark Edward Lender] By 1864, after railing against Lincoln for three years and condemning the draft, Fuller was arrested on a charge of inciting insurrection. An article appearing in the Hartford Daily Courant as early as 26 August 1861 alleged that the “Southern Secret Service” forwarded $5,000 to leading newspapers in New Jersey to foment political unrest and inaugurate peace movements. Though I cannot be absolutely certain that Edward was the author of this letter, I strongly suspect that he was.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Newark, New Jersey
April 2, 1861
Gov. [Francis Wilkinson] Pickens
I have understood that you want about 1000 men to come down to South Carolina and join the army now stationed there. If such is the case, I would like to know as I have about 150 men under my command that have become disgusted with affairs here in New Jersey and would like [to] get out of the place as soon as possible. If our services would be acceptable, we shall come down to South Carolina and seek you out at once. I will give you an account of our proceedings here and how our company began to form. In the first place, Abe Lincoln’s election was received by us with disgust. We immediately resolved to hold secret meetings here in Newark to see what we could do in regard to helping your Southern Brethren in case they should secede. The crisis has now come. If it is true that you need the services of our men, we shall come down to you at the first word that you send. As our organization has been kept secret for so long and we are afraid that we cannot
do so any keep it so much longer, I would like for you to write at once telling me if it is the truth that I have heard, and if so, at what time we can start for to come to you—that is, if our services are wanted. We all believe that our Southern Brethren are right in the course they are pursuing. In writing, please address Samuel Tromore, Newark, New Jersey, and I will remain faithful to the last and remain forever your friend in the cause, — Samuel Tromore, Captain of the Palmetto guards
Newark, New Jersey, April 2nd 1861
Docket on reverse of letter reads:
Letter of Palmetto Guards of Newark, N. J. tendering their services, April 2d 1861
Col. [Franklin J.] Moses — write _____ courteously declining to ____ as yet because we hope there may be no need for them, but thanking them for their patriotism &c. — F. W. P[ickens]