First Dragoons

A site dedicated to the 1st US Dragoons 1833-1861 (What is a Dragoon?)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Slavery in the Dragoons: Captain John Burgwin and Captain Robert H. Chilton

It was not unusual for some officers serving in the Antebellum Army to own slaves. Indeed, the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857 arose when a deceased officer's slave sought to obtain his freedom. These letters were written by Captain Henry Smith Turner, USMA 1834, of the 1st Dragoons who accompanied Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny and two companies of Dragoons on out to California and briefly assumed command at the 1846 Battle of San Pascual. He resigned from the Army in 1848. On April 4, 1849, Turner wrote to Lt. John Love from St Louis inquiring about Burgwin's property and his efforts to block James Schaumburgh from gaining a commission in the 1st Dragoons. (Schaumburgh, a 2d lieutenant at the time of formation of 1st Dragoons, resigned his commission under a cloud in 1836, was reinstated in 1844, but dropped in 1845). In 1849, Lt. John Love, the acting regimental adjutant at Ft. Leavenworth, and was involved in, among other things, settling the late Captain John Burgwin's affairs.

The first letter below concerns Captain Burgwin, an officer in the 1st Dragoons from North Carolina and an 1830 graduate of the Military Academy. He owned a servant who was named Horace. Captain Burgwin seems to have brought Horace with him when he went to conquer Santa Fe with the Dragoons in 1846. Burgwin died from wounds suffered in the Taos Mutiny on 7 February, 1847.

The second letter sent by Turner to Lt. Love concerns a female slave that he was about to purchase in Booneville, Missouri on behalf of Captain Robert Hall Chilton, 1st Dragoons. Captain Chilton, USMA 1837, was at th time commanding B Company at Fort Kearney. Turner arranged to have the slave sent to Ft. Leavenworth and requested that Love see that she be shipped west to Fort Kearney. Chilton, a Virginian, would resign from the army on 29 April 1861 and later served as a General in the Southern Confederacy.


` Near St Louis
April 4, 1849

D[ea]r. Love

Please give me the history of Burgwin's boy Horace since the death of his master. I have just rec'd a letter poor B's father on the subject and in reply I have promised to obtain information from you and [shall] communicate it to him. Write to me on this subject by return mail.

I suppose you are all practising for the redoubtable Schumburg[h]. I cannot think that this outrage is really comsummated, as I understand old Zack [Taylor] has taken action action on the matter.

Did you get the sash?

In haste,
H. S. Turner


Near St. Louis
Sept. 10, 1849

My Dear Love,

I've some time since a letter from our friend Chilton at Fort Kearney, requesting me to purchase for him a negro woman. I have now the prospect of complying with his request after many unsuccessful efforts. In the event of my succeeding I am directed by C. to send the woman to you, to be forwarded to Fort K. I learned but a few days ago that there was at Booneville a woman for sale achievig the descripion required by C. and I have written to a friend there to buy her and have requested him to ship her to you at Fort Leavth. Should she arrive of course you will have been informed of C.'s wishes in relation to her.

As from your sincere friend,
H. S. Turner