Manuscript Group 300, Sebastian Cabot, Jr. (1840-1915), Civil War Officer, Papers 1861-1915

New Jersey Historical Society Library
Manuscript Collection
Manuscript Group # 300
Sebastian Cabot Duncan Junior Papers
Civil War Papers, 1861-1915
2 Boxes/13 Folders

Prepared by Nicholas Wells
Seton Hall University
December 20, 1982
Edited by Stephen M. Sullivan


The Sebastian Cabot Duncan Junior Papers were donated to the Society as a gift from Miriam W. Duncan in 1949 and 1977.


Anyone having read the Duncan papers receives from them a certain understanding of what the man, Sebastian Duncan Jr., was all about. That is to- say his personality is not purposely hidden in his own words, his values and beliefs are quite clear to the reader.

First of all he is an intelligent man. His grasp of English grammar and spelling is exemplary. He is very religious, loyal and supporting of his country, firm in his beliefs, sympathetic towards the homeless civilians, concerned for his fellow soldiers, uncomplaining of the poor conditions in which he is required to live under and prideful enough to feel disgraced when taking handouts from civilians.

Through all of this his keen sense of humor shines through the dilemmas of the war. In fact, he tries to see the comical and positive side of an extremely difficult time in his life. In some way he knew that he had to “grin and bear it” in his situations. As a soldier he was all a commander could ask for. He did not retreat, he followed orders and his bravery was unquestioned.

Scope and Content

Consists mostly of Civil War letters written by Sebastian Cabot Duncan, Jr., an officer in Company E of the l3th New Jersey Volunteers, 1862-65, to his family in Newark. A member of the Rutgers College class of 1863, Duncan saw action in the battles of Antietam, Bentonville, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, as well as in Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Also included are letters of George H. Cook, William H. S. Demarest, Theodore Frelinghuysen, A.O. Granger, William Hawley, and Newell D. Hillis.

The Duncan papers span the years between August of 1862 and 1915, Duncan’s death. The first five folders contain Duncan1s correspondence with his family during the war years. The later folders contain documents, letters from friends, army discharge material, biographical sketches and communications with Rutgers. The rudimentary life of a Civil War soldier is exemplified in Duncan’s letters and is an excellent source for the researcher studying this aspect of the war.

Contained in the folders bearing miscellaneous material, the researcher will find a treasure of original documents, newspaper articles and an abundance of bureaucratic “red tape” paperwork from the War Department, Treasury Department and Army Quartermasters. Within these miscellaneous folders there are useful papers for the researcher interested in the discharging of a Civil War soldier.

Sebastian Duncan, Junior’s papers serve the researcher who is looking for information dealing with the less glorified aspects of the war. You “will not find detailed accounts or exaggerated descriptions of historic battles. The majority of Duncan’s war experience was spent marching up and down the east coast, setting up camp, standing picket duty, packing up camp and marching off to some other campsite.

Although Duncan remained in excellent health throughout the war, (as he frequently mentions), he none the less wrote home explaining the hardships that he and his regiment were undergoing; the endless marching in unbearable dust and heat, sleeping and standing guard duty in the rain, the short supply of food, the absence of pay for months, and the horrors of seeing wounded men laying on the

battlefield with parts of their bodies missing. Duncan describes the carnage of the battlefield a number of times in detail in his letters home.

All of Sebastian Duncar^s letters written during the war were to his family, his mother and father, his sisters; Bell, Hattie, Nellie, and Susie and his brothers; Tav, Willie, and Gustavus. All of Duncan’s family members received letters from him at some point during the war. The letters basically deal with everyday life of soldiering. He discloses no significant amount of political views or information, he has no deep hatred towards the southerners, his racial points of view are negligible and his main thoughts center around getting home safely and seeing the north and south reunited.

Civilian reaction towards the troops and the hardships they suffer are most poignant to Duncan who sympathizes them. The support given to Duncan and his regiment in the forms of food, shelter and frienship play a dominant role in Duncan’s letters. Their generosity, as explained by Duncan after the battle of Gettysburg, was much appreciated by all the soldiers and Duncan continually emphasizes this in his letters.

Biographical Sketch:

Sebastian Duncan Senior and his three brothers came to the United States after the close of the Revolutionary War from Dumfernshire, I Scotland, Sebastian Duncan Senior was a woolen manufacturer in Newark during the Civil War and resided at 56 Clinton Street from I860 to 1867. Duncan Senior married Harriet Ford of Whippany, New Jersey. The Duncans had nine children, four girls and five boys, Sebastian Duncan Junior was born at Franklin, Mew Jersey on June 6, 1840, He was a member of the class of 1863 at Rutgers College, He and his brother Henry

were the only members of the family to serve in the Union forces during the Civil War, Henry was in the navy on board the Queen of the West, he was captured running the Vicksburg batteries in April of 1863. After being paroled he was promoted and put in command of the Rob Roy. He died a few years after the war, Sebastian was mustered into Company E, 13th regiment of the New Jersey Volunteers on August 12, 1662. The day of the battle of Antietam Duncan and his regiment were positioned; in a cornfield. Ordered to take off their packs they advanced into some woods where they came across this wounded man with one leg shot off and the other one shattered. All around Duncan where men without a scratch hiding out of harms way behind the trees, Duncan’s colonel compelled some of the “wretches’1 to carry the wounded man to the hospital. Marching through the woods the regiment was confronted by Confederate soldiers who fired a deathly volley into Duncan’s regiment as they rushed from the woods. Duncan’s regiment fell back, Duncan himself having difficulty firing his weapon. Lying near a fence trying to load his musket, Duncan was faced with being shot by the Rebels in front of him and the men of his own regiment who had fallen back behind him. After getting a shot off Duncan crawled his way into an adjacent cornfield to reload again while his regiment quickly retreated in disorder. While priming his weapon a musket ball struck

his third knuckle of his right hand and seeing as how it did not hurt he finished loading and fired. Crawling out of the field he assisted three others in carrying a wounded man from the fight luckily not being hit again. Rejoining his regiment later on he learned that the: regiment had suffered a considerable loss of men and older veterans of the war stated that it had been the hardest fighting of the war.

Surviving the battle of Antietam, Duncan was promoted to corporal and served as an aide-de-camp at the Brigade Commissary under Generals William Hawley and E.A. Carman, When promoted to first lieutenant on June 1, 186? he rejoined his regiment and saw action during the siege of Atlanta in which he took personal part in the burning of the Confederate steamer Ida and also the capture of another Rebel steamer, the Resolute, which also had on board it several officers and some supplies. He obtained the Resolute^ flag with the permission of his commander and nailed it home to his family as a commemorative of the war. It is the flag in which Duncan presented to his Alma Mater years later, Duncan was promoted to Captain by brevet on March 8, 186$ and was honorably discharged near Washington on June 8, 1865.

He married Annie C, Butts on November 11, 1869 in Cranston, Rhode Island. He had two sons, Wallace and Wentworth, both of whom died in infancy, Wallace, born on January 13p 1876, died of scarlet fever on December 27,1878, Wentworth was born April 19, 1872 and died of diphtheria on January 13, 1875. Meriam, his daughter, survived Duncan. Sebatian Duncan Jr. was employed at a woolen mill in Providence after the war until he moved to 1195 Bergen Street in Brooklyn where he was involved in the pickle business on Warren Street, Duncan resided in Brooklyn for more than forty years, he was member of the church of the Pilgrims in Broolyn and later appointed

Deacon of the Plymouth Church, His other place of employment was the Title Guarantee and Trust Company, where he was head of its, tax department, Sebastian Duncan Junior died at Riverside, Rhode Island, on September 4, 1915. He was survived by his wife, who died in Brooklyn on October 17, 1929, and Miriam, his daughter.


The correspondence itself is basically letters written home by Duncan on everyday matters such as his healthy camplife and his family’s welfare. The letters in folder #1 entitled “copied” have been rewritten in a copy letter book, (folder 13) by his sisters, apparently ten years after the war.

Folder #1: Correspondence from November 2, 1862 to June 8, 1863. Twenty-five pieces, three envelopes, ten letters copied. Included are:

  1. Descriptions of the regiment, march through Maryland.
  2. Mention of father’s business matters.
  3. Battle of Ant__ in which Duncan was wounded and attitudes toward rebellious south
  4. Brother Henry’ s capture.
  5. Abraham Lincoln, a visit through camp.
  6. Description of three deserters being executed.
  7. Duncan’s appointment to the Brigade Commissary Department

Folder #2: Correspondence from July 8, 1863 to December 26, 1863. Fourteen pieces, one envelope. Included are:

  1. To Duncan1 s father concerning Gettysburg.
  2. March to Chatanooga, Richmond-Indiana, Christina-Tennessee.
  3. Mentions in September 18, letter that Antietam was his first battle and that he has not fought since.

Folder #3: Correspondence from January 17, 1864 to June 26, 1864. Twenty-one pieces, two envelopes. Included are:

  1. Reference to father’s business.
  2. Family possibly moving from Clinton Street due to rent increase^
  3. Description of Chickamaugua battlefield.

Folder #4; Correspondence from July, 1864 to December 14, 1864. Thirty-eight pieces, one five page typed extractions from letters, three envelopes. Included are:

  1. Shelling of Atlanta.
  2. Ends service as aide-de-camp in Commissary Departments
  3. Promotion to Lieutenant, rejoining of regiment.
  4. Action seen in Atlanta
  5. Army payroll difficulties.
  6. General Slocum takes over command of 20th corps from General Hooker,
  7. Capture of Atlanta, description of bombarded city.
  8. Typed extracts from letters December 12, 1864 in which Duncan explains his naval affair where he took part in the Confederate steamer “Ida” and the capture of another rebel steamer, the “Resolute.”
  9. The taking of Savannah.

Folder #5; Correspondence from January 10, 1865 to May 28, 1865. Fourteen pieces. Included are:

  1. Advance into South Carolina.
  2. Skirmish with Wheelers cavalry.
  3. Comparison between Shermans troops and the troops of the regiment,
  4. Battle of Mill Creek.
  5. News received of the fall of Richmond.
  6. General Mower takes command of the 20th corps
  7. Political reflection on the armies.
  8. News of Lee’s surrender to Grant.
  9. Entering of Raliegh, North Carolina.
  10. The march to Richmond.
  11. Miscellaneous Papers:

Folder #6; Seventeen pieces. Included are:

  1. Biographical Notices of Officers, Graduates and Non-Graduate Students of Rutgers College, June 1916.
  2. Genealogy of the Duncan family
  3. Biographical information.
  4. General Order of appreciation of services by General William Hawley.
  5. Letter to Duncan from Hawley.
  6. Typed letter from A.0» Granger, (Private secretary of General Shennan) thanking Dunean for his invitation to a reunion of the 13th regiments
  7. letter from George H. Cook from Rutgers.
  8. Newspaper article on Rutgers Club dinner in which Duncan presented flag to Rutgers.
  9. Written copy of typed letter of December 11, 1864»
  10. Typed letter from Rutgers in appreciation for flag.
  11. Sketch of the battlefield of Bentonville and letter descibing the battle.
  12. Typed application letter from Veterans Association.
  13. Invitation to the decoration of Grant’s Tomb
  14. Pass for Duncan to Grant’s Tomb ceremony.
  15. Two speeches (four written pages) to Veterans?
  16. • Bumside family coat of arms,
  17. Letter of condolence to Mrs. Duncan from Plymouth Church

Folder #7: Nine pieces. Included are:

  1. List of deaths including Duncan’s son Wallace.
  2. Special orders from Colonel E»A, Carman.
  3. Receipts of discharge.
  4. Lt, Dicharge papers.
  5. Muster in papers.
  6. Receipts for the return of army clothing issued from quartermaster»
  7. Grades from Rutgers College 1862,
  8. Letter of reference, 1873.
  9. Letters to Miriam Duncan from Rutgers in acceptance of sabre?

Folder #8: Fourteen pieces. Included are:

  1. Obituary notices for Duncan from newspapers
  2. Academic records of Miriam Duncan
  3. Certificate of Promotion to Captain by Brevet signed by President Andrew
  4. Johnson and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton Sketches of coat. of arms for Butts family,
  5. Quartermaster receipts.
  6. Treasury Department papers
  7. Pension papers
  8. Job reference from Title Guarantee and Trust Company.
  9. War Department promotion papers
  10. Gold exchange admittance card,
  11. Extract from letter December 11, 1864.
  12. Story of Great March
  13. Letter from George Cook,
  14. Nine written pages of speeches.

Folder #9: Newspaper articles 1902, dealing with Governor Murphy’s inauguration and the men of the 13th regiment who served with him. Also a newspaper article from the Portsmouth Daily Times, 1885, written by Duncan.

Folder #10; Cloth Flag,

Folder #11; Picture of family members?

Folder #12, BOX II: New Testament in Greek carried by Duncan through Civil March

Folder #13

BOX II; Copy letter book, 1862-1863,


  1. Refer to E.A, earmarks papers for additional reference material, KG 176-Guide to Manuscripts,
  2. For a detailed account on the capture of the Resolute refer to the five page typed extract which can be found in a Folder
  3. Refer to the Guide to Manuscripts for the papers of the Veterans Association An official record on the movements of the 13th regiment during the war and also the official date of Sebastian Duncan’s mustering in promotions and discharge can be found in the Record of Officers and Ken ^J New Jersey in the Civil War 1861-66. Additional artifacts such as Duncan’s models and photographs may be seen in the Society’s museum through appointment.


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