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The Search for Robert Livingstone

By John Murray

(From his article 'Rupert Vincent, I Presume?'), which appeared in Crossfire No 96, August 2011).

Most readers of Crossfire will be aware that the man who tracked down the famous explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone in Africa in 1871, Henry Morton Stanley (pictured) had fought in the American Civil War for the Confederacy at the battle of Shiloh where he was captured. Dr. Livingstone had a very personal connection with the "War between the States": his son Robert had fought with the Union forces and he too had been captured. There are some poignant similarities between Stanley and Robert Livingstone but, ultimately, their fates were very different.

In his article '"The Devil's Own Day', a Simple Story" which appeared in the August 2002 issue of Crossfire, John Laskey looked at the experience of Stanley (and the well-known author Ambrose Bierce) at Shiloh. John sketched Stanley's early years. A Welshman born John Rowlands, Stanley had an unhappy childhood. An illegitimate son of a woman of so-called "easy virtue" and whose father died a drunk, Rowlands, with a desire to better his dim prospects, went to sea and eventually jumped ship in New Orleans.

Stanley volunteered to fight for the Confederacy and, aged 21, fought with the 6th Arkansas Regiment at the battle of Shiloh. On the second day of the battle, 7 April 1862, Stanley was captured by Ohio troops. From Shiloh, Stanley was taken to Camp Douglas at St. Louis, Missouri. Here he suffered several weeks of vermin-crawling imprisonment. Stanley subsequently swapped his lice-infested grey uniform for a clean blue one. Although he joined a Federal artillery battery (of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery), he saw no further action. As John Laskey relates, Stanley became ill and "discharged himself'.

Robert Livingstone experienced both hunger and the effects of harsh landscapes many times in Africa during the first seven years of his life. He was the eldest of five children born to David and Mary Livingstone between 1846 and 1851. With his younger sister and brothers, Robert experienced the extreme heat of the Kalahari, nearly died of thirst, had to eat locusts and wild honey regularly and drank from remote and polluted water-holes. He suffered malaria and malnutrition and witnessed the harrowing death from fever of his infant sister. At the age of seven, Robert, together with his mother and surviving siblings, was sent by David to live with David's parents in Scotland. Mary Livingstone soon fell out with her in-laws and she and her children stayed in various places such as Kendall, Manchester, Hackney and Epsom. David Livingstone returned to Britain a hero in 1858, but his celebrity left little time for his family David, who branded Robert as lazy and ill-disciplined, made arrangements for his son to be educated at various boarding schools from the age of 12. For the next five years, Robert was criticised at his schools as inattentive, lazy, lacking in any effort and badly behaved. Robert's mother returned to Africa to accompany David in his exploration of the Zambezi in 1862 but she became very ill and died. After an abortive trip to Cape Town to find his father, Robert signed on as a crew member on a brig bound for Boston. He changed his name to Rupert Vincent.

Whereas Stanley was a volunteer for the Confederate cause in the early days of the conflict, Rupert Vincent was apparently shanghaied into the Union forces while at the Sailors' Home in Boston where he had been living close to destitution for some weeks. By 1864, both North and South had introduced conscription. R. D. Gemmill, writing about Rupert Vincent in the January 1995 issue of Scottish Memories, described the draft dodging by men of wealth and the press-gang recruitment (or "crimping") of unemployed men in the hostels and doss-houses of the industrialised cities and ports.

The military service records of Rupert Vincent in the U.S. National Archives make interesting reading and plot his ill-starred experience as a member of the Federal forces. The earliest dated document in his military service records is the "Declaration of Substitute" which Rupert Vincent appears to have signed on 22 January 1864. In that document and the accompanying document "Substitute Volunteer Enlistment" signed by him on the same day, Vincent states that he was age 21. In the latter document, Vincent states that he was born in "South Africa", that he was a "Sailor" by occupation and that he had agreed with Horace Heath to become his "Substitute". Vincent executed this document at Concord, New Hampshire, before a Justice of the Peace. That same document contains a certificate which states that Horace Heath was drafted in Concord on 6 October 1863. The certificate is signed by members of the Board of Enrolment of the 2nd District of New Hampshire. It states that the Board examined the Volunteer Substitute and found that he was "free from all bodily defects and mental infirmity which would in any way disqualify him from performing the duties of a soldier; that he was entirely sober when enlisted; that he is of lawful age,(not under 18 years ) ...". The certificate goes on to confirm that Vincent had hazel eyes, dark hair, dark complexion and was 5 feet 7 inches high.

Compiled military service records contain cards recording the Company Muster Roll entries for the relevant soldier covering a given two month period. After stating the soldier's name, rank, company and regiment, the two month period is recorded followed by a "Present or absent" section with spaces for "Stoppages" and any amounts due to the Government and, finally, a section headed "Remarks". There are Company Muster Roll cards in respect of Vincent for January and February 1864:

"Present(...)Assigned to Company H, February 14, 1864"; March and April 1864: "Present (...)Due U.S. for one watering bridle 92 cents. Received $ 25 U.S. bounty"; May and June 1864: "Present(...) Due U.S. for one knapsack $1.85, one set Great Coat Straps 11 cents, one haversack 49 cents and 1 watering bridle 92 cents". In respect of Vincent there are two Company Muster Roll cards for July and August 1864. The first is merely annotated "entire entry cancelled by line". The second contains the remarks:

"Deserted from the regiment before Petersburg August 24, 1864 - due U.S. for one Springfield Rifle complete, one set infantry equipments complete, one knapsack & strap, one haversack & one canteen".

There then follows, in similar form to the Muster Roll entry, a "Descriptive List of Deserters" card dated 9 September 1864 with entries for deserted "when" (August 24,1864) "Deserted and "where" (Bermuda Hundred) and While on the remark "Deserted while on march", march". Once again there are two Company Muster Roll cards for September and October 1864. The first has "?" after "Present or absent" and the following remarks: "Reported Deserter by mistake from August 24,1864 to October 5, 1864 when he reported from General Hospital(...)".The same items listed in the July and August 1864

Muster Roll card are stated to be due the U.S. On the second card Vincent is marked "Absent" with the remark "Missing in action October 7,1864".The official records show that the 3rd New Hampshire, part of the 1st Division, 10th Corps, Army of the James, had been involved in Major General Ben Butler's Bermuda Hundred campaign, taking part in engagements at Swift Creek, Drury's Bluff, Petersburg and Port Walthall. The regiment started a one-month spell in the trenches before Petersburg on 24 August 1864, the day Vincent went missing. The Company Descriptive Book entry for Vincent records that he "returned to duty from hospital October 6, 1864. Missing in action October 7,1864". After their period in the Petersburg trenches, the 3rd New Hampshire moved north of the James River, nearer to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Vincent's return to his regiment was unfortunate timing. On 7 October, Lee's Confederates attempted to re-take part of the Fort Harrison lines. The action on the Darbytown Road ended in complete failure for the Confederates when General Fields' Division, which should have been supported by Robert Hoke's Division but was not, was repulsed with over 1,300 losses. Federal losses amounted to around 400 -one of whom was Rupert Vincent who was captured and sent south to the P.O.W. camp in Salisbury, North Carolina. There was to be no Company Muster Roll entry for November and December 1864 in respect of Vincent.

The only Confederate Military Prison in North Carolina was established in the town of Salisbury on 2 November 1861 and was originally designed as a place of punishment for Southern soldiers guilty of military offences. In his book Life and Death in Rebel Prisons, Robert Kellogg, formerly of the 16th Connecticut and a survivor of the notorious Andersonville P.O.W. camp, included a chapter on Salisbury. In the early days as a P.O.W. prison it was "comparatively mild". This changed as the Civil War progressed, prisoner exchanges were stopped and particularly when the 16 acre prison became overcrowded with an influx in October 1864 of 10,000 P.O.W.s, mostly transfers from Andersonville. Kellogg quoted one inmate of Salisbury, Albert D. Richardson, who stated that the prison "immediately changed into a scene of cruelty and horror, it was densely crowded, rations were cut down and issued very irregularly!...) the prisoners suffered considerably, and often intensely, for want of bread and shelter". An ambitious escape attempt took place on Friday, 25 November, 1864, two weeks after Federal military authorities started a search for Robert Livingstone.

Rupert Vincent's military service records contain some evidence of this search. Samuel Breck, Assistant Adjutant General sent a telegram on 11 November 1864 to Major General Butler which read: "Send Robert Moffat Livingstone alias Rupert Vincent Co. K (sic) 3rd N(ew) Hampshire) Volunteers probably in hospital of his regiment to Fort Monroe to await an investigation relative to his enlistment by this Office. Please report all facts concerning his enlistment to this office that you can obtain". The next day, on 12 November 1864, A.H. Bizzell ( Surgeon in Charge) of 10 A(rmy) C(orps) sent a telegram to Lt. Col., and A.A.G., E.H. Smith as follows: "Robt. M. Livingston alias Rupert Vincent Co. K (sic) 3rd N.H. Vols, is not in hospital 10 A C. By records of Flying Hospital this man was rec(eive)d as patient Aug.31st / 64 and transferred to Base Hospital Sept. 4th but his name does not appear upon the Books of the latter although a careful search has been made with a knowledge of the transfer." On the same day, 12 November 1864, assistant surgeon E. McClellan sent a telegram from Fort Monroe to Col. Smith which read: "No such man in hospital as Robt. M. Livingston alias Rupert Vincent". On 15 November 1864, surgeon in charge M. Storms sent a telegram from Point of Rocks to Capt. J. R. Seally AAG: "We have no record whatever of Robert M. Livingston alias Rupert Vincent 3rd N. H. Vols.". Vincent was not in a Federal hospital but he would end up in a Rebel one.

According to Albert D. Richardson's statement to the U.S. Committee on the Conduct of the War, "on 25th November, many of the prisoners had been without food for forty-eight hours and were desperate, without any matured plan(.. .)Some of them wrested the guns from a relief of fifteen rebel soldiers, just entering the yard, killing two who resisted, and wounding five or six others, and attempted to open the fence, but they had neither adequate tools or concert of action. Before they could effect a breach, every gun of the garrison was turned on them, the field-pieces opened with grape and canister, and they (the prisoners) dispersed to their quarters. In five minutes from its beginning, the attempt was quelled(...) The Rebels killed sixteen in all, and wounded sixty". One of the wounded was Rupert Vincent. It was three days before he was admitted to the prison hospital.

The Company Descriptive Book entry for Vincent, referred to earlier, concludes with the statement that Vincent was "reported to have since died in prison in Salisbury N.C.". The second of the two September and October 1864 Company Muster Roll cards, which carried the remark: "Missing in action October 7,1864", has two dated entries on the reverse: "April 6, 1865 -died at Salisbury, North Carolina, December 4, 1864 of unknown disease" and "7 March, 1866 - died December 5, 1864 at Salisbury N.C. while Prisoner of War".

The military service records illustrate the early confusion regarding the date and cause of Rupert Vincent's death. The Company Muster-out Roll card, which is dated "Goldsboro, N.C. July 20, 1865" contains the remarks: "Drafted. Died at Salisbury N.C. December 5, 1864". A note by the National Archives copyist confirms that the Roll was amended having originally stated "December 4". There are three other formal military documents (Casualty Sheet, Memorandum of Prisoner of War Records and Final Statement) which record the sad fate of Rupert Vincent.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, there are two Casualty Sheets in Vincent's file. The Casualty Sheet is a two sided document with one side containing a brief summary (name, rank,company, regiment and "nature of casualty") and the reverse side with spaces for more detail (cause of casualty; degree of disability; by whom certified; date of discharge, death etc; place of discharge, death etc; by whom discharged; from what source this information was obtained; and remarks). The first version of the Casualty Sheet states the nature of casualty as "Death. Died December 4, 1864" and "Disease" as the cause of casualty, with the source of information being the "Muster roll of Co. "H" 3rd N.H. for September and October, 1864". The second version of the Casualty Sheet refers to "Death. Died at Salisbury Hospital N.C. of wound, December 5 1864. Page 45, Salisbury Hospital Records". The "Memorandum from Prisoner of War Records" does not indicate where Vincent was captured but does state he was "admitted to hospital at Salisbury N.C. November 28 '64 where he died December 5, 1864 of Wound".

The "Final Statement" is another double-sided document. On one side is space for name, rank, company and regiment followed by several explanatory notes. Note 1 explains that the certificate is given to a "volunteer Soldier or drafted man who may be discharged previously to the discharge of his company" so that he can receive any pay due to him. Note 7 states that "this blank p.e. pro-forma) will be used for deceased volunteers and drafted men, as well as others". The reverse side of the document consists of the certificate completed and signed by the soldier's company commander. In the case of Rupert Vincent, the certificate was completed and signed by Capt. James E. McCoy who commanded company "H". After inserting the personal details of Vincent, McCoy certified that Vincent was "drafted and mustered" on 6 October 1863 and that he was entitled to a "DISCHARGE by reason of death : Died at Rebel Prison in Salisbury N.C. on the 4th day of December 1864. Cause of Death not given". Commenting, regarding stoppages, McCoy wrote: "He was reported deserter by mistake from August 24 '64 to October 6th when he reported from General Hospital. Due U.S. for one Springfield Rifle complete one set equipments complete 1 knapsack 1 haversack and one canteen and great coat strap. Due Soldier from U.S. $75.00 U.S. bounty". The certificate was given at Wilmington, North Carolina on 28 May 1865. The Final Statement shows some subsequent manuscript amendments. The date of death has been amended to read 5th (not 4th) December 1864. There is written in manuscript: "Dec. 5th 1864, as shown by Casualty Sheet and rolls, accepted as correct date of death".

There is a final document among Rupert Vincent's military service records which shows that some weeks after his death at Salisbury efforts were still being made to locate his whereabouts. This is a letter dated 31 December 1864 addressed to one H.C. Houghton Esq from J. J. Abbott of the Individual Relief Department of the U.S. Christian Commission in Washington D.C. The letter reads:

"Dear Sir

Information is desired concerning Robert Livingstone, enlisted in Co. H 3rd New Hampshire Vols under the name of Rupert Vincent. For the sake of his honored father and the high authorities who have become interested in his behalf it is desired that this matter be attended to as faithfully and delicately as is possible. He was then with his regiment not long ago, as I am informed by Delegate Wm. Kirkby. His regiment was attached to the 10th

Corps, now 24th.

Very truly yours

J.J. Abbott pr. J.M.P.

He belongs to Co. H, not K as formerly supposed".

As for Henry Morton Stanley, as is well known, he became a newspaper reporter and explorer and achieved lasting fame by searching for and finding Dr. Livingstone. After becoming a citizen of the United States, Stanley eventually returned to England and reverted to being a British citizen. He died on 10 May 1904 having been a Member of Parliament and knighted by Queen Victoria.


1. R.D.Gemmill, "Explorer's son shanghaied" in Scottish Memories, January 1995 (pp 11-13)

2. John Laskey, " 'The Devil's Own Day' a Simple Story" in Crossfire August 2002 (pp 9, 27)

3. Compiled Military Service Records of Rupert Vincent, 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers Infantry (National Archives Washington D.C.)

4. Robert H. Kellogg Life and Death in Rebel Prisons (L. Stebbins, Hartford, Conn. 1866, pp 375-385)

5. Tracy Power Lee's Miserables ( The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998, pp 210-211).

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