Who Wrote on Liberia's Walls?
Whether leaving their signatures, expressing their frustrations, or demonstrating their creative spirits in drawings and poetry, Civil War soldiers left their mark on places they visited. Armed with pencils, red crayons, or charcoal from a fire, graffiti was a way for soldiers to leave a piece of themselves behind as they marched into uncertain conditions.
At Liberia, conservators have so far uncovered many stray marks on the walls, but only eight complete signatures that we have been able to trace. Some signatures will never be recovered if they were scrubbed from the walls or attached to an unstable surface. We hope that further conservation will reveal more about those who called Liberia home, and those who passed through here during the Civil War.
Visit our partners on the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail:
Thanks to Museum Volunteer Margaret Binning for researching the following soldiers who wrote on Liberia's walls, and for contacting descendants who have been able to visit the site. Thanks to summer historic interpreters Rachel Bolton and Katie Mayo for discovering our newest signatures, and for researching their backgrounds. Click on the soldier's names for a more complete genealogy report.
Lt. John Banks Dayton, Pennsylvania 34th Infantry (aka the 5th Reserves) from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was a jeweler / watchmaker who enlisted in the infantry on 21 June 1861 at age 29 and had a wife and two children. John was wounded twice in 1862 before traveling with his unit through Manassas and finding himself upstairs in Liberia, signing the walls where others would follow or had already signed. After the war, John returned to Williamsport where he became a prominent citizen, strongly engaged in his reunion organization, and became an important member of his church.
Nelson & Gayle Runkle traveled from Missouri to see Nelson's great-great grandfather's signature. Read the story from their local newspaper.
Private Preceptor Anthony of Company A, 105th Infantry, New York, was a carpenter from LeRoy, Genesee County, New York who enlisted in the Union army at the age of 44. He served in the 105thfrom December 1861 to February 1863 and was not heard from until he reenlisted in January 1864 in the 8th NY Heavy Artillery and served until the end of the war. Later, Preceptor received a pension due to his loss of hearing, a not too uncommon malady for an Artilleryman. Preceptor moved to lBaltimore, where he continued working as a carpenter. At least four of his adult sons lived in the same house as their parents, and they all became fishermen.
(left) Ron Saunders traveled from Maryland to see his great-great-great grandfather's signature.
(right) Private Anthony's military record.
Private William Dudley Conant was from Royalton, Windsor County, Vermont. Private Conant’s unit, Company A, 16th Vermont Infantry, was assigned to the area protecting the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Manassas Junction. Within a month of being at Liberia, Conant’s unit executed a forced march to Gettysburg were he fought in the famous July battle. Family tradition related that William was severely wounded on July 3rd and left for dead on the battlefield. He was eventually discovered, recovered from his injuries, and discharged on August 10, 1863. The remainder of his life was spent as a farmer in New England.
(left) Margaret Binning shows Jennifer Hilliard Demason, the great-great-great granddaughter of Pvt. Conant, his signature. (right) The canteen Pvt. Conant used during the War.
Private John Benjamin was in Company I of the 26th NY Volunteers. He was a tall, blue-eyed, 21 year-old painter from Madison when he enlisted as a private on May 13, 1861 in Utica, New York, about 20 miles away. He was taken Prisoner of War on August 29, 1862, during the Battle of Second Manassas, and was paroled on September 8, 1862, either in Manassas or in Charlestown. He was then sent to Camp Parole, near Annapolis, a camp that housed Federal prisoners awaiting exchange. He was finally sent to Aquia Creek for exchange on an unknown date. He mustered out of service on May 28, 1863.
John Benjamin's gravestone and service record.
Captain Levin Bevin Day was born in 1816 and is listed in an 1850 census for Sussex County, Delaware as a 34-year old farmer and father of seven children. He mustered into the Union Army in January of 1862 as Captain of Company D of the 3rd Infantry. The 3rd Delaware went on to fight at Cold Harbor and Petersburg, and was present during General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. The 3rd Delaware made a triumphant march into Washington, and mustered out by July of 1865.
Barbara Smith of Delaware holds a portrait of her great-great-great grandfather Captain Day in the room
where he signed his name.Captain Day photo is courtesy of the Delaware State Archives.
Leverett Horatio Waldo was born in 1841 in China, New York and worked in his father’s woolen mill. A distant branch of his family tree includes the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In August 1862, when he was 21, Leverett enlisted in the 130th New York Infantry as a Private. The regiment was kept in defense of Washington until June 1863 and then transferred to the Peninsula near Yorktown. When the unit was able to acquire horses, it converted to the 19th NY Cavalry, and then became the 1st NY Dragoons. The unit suffered great losses at the Wilderness, fought in the remainder of Grant’s overland campaign of 1864, including the Battle of Yellow Tavern, and was part of the final Appomattox campaign. Leverett mustered out of the army in June of 1865 and returned to the milling industry. After his marriage he moved to Wisconsin to become a woolen mill supervisor. He had eight children and is buried in Appleton, Wisconsin.
(left)Tracing of Leverett Waldo's signature. (right) 1st NY Dragoons Flag
Leverett Waldo in later years; his war-time mess kit; and
Larry Lashway, Waldo's great-grandson, traveled from Washington state to view his signature.
James McLaughlin was born in Oriskany, New York in 1844 and was drafted into the 26th New York Infantry of the Union Army, then later transferred to the 24th New York Cavalry. Between battles, soldiers commonly wrestled one another to unwind, and McLaughlin became widely renowned for his skill. Although his rank at war's end was Major, he was named Colonel by the Governor of Michigan. After leaving the military, McLaughlin immediately took up a career in wrestling, also working as a passenger conductor on the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroad. Colonel McLaughlin won the American Collar & Elbow championships in 1866 and 1870. His popularity as a wrestler did not fade and he continued to compete for many years.
James McLaughlin, pictured in his professional wrestling days after the Civil War.
Adam McKelvey, a day laborer from Westmoreland Co., Pa., enlisted as a Private in Company F, 12th Pa. Reserves on May 30, 1861 at the ripe old age of 41, leaving his pregnant wife, Eliza, and five children back on the family farm. Six months after Adam left home, Eliza gave birth to a boy that they would patriotically name Adam Lincoln McKelvey. The 12th Pa. Res. Inf. was in the Manassas area both in March and again in August 1862, giving him ample opportunity to have visited Liberia and inscribe his moniker. Adam chose the wall at the head of the staircase as the site of his artistry. Private McKelvey returned home after the war and is buried in the family plot in Irwin Union Cemetery.
William Jackson is the newest discovery and the only soldier who wrote on Liberia's walls to have died during the war. He is also from the 26th NY, the same unit as John Benjamin and James McLaughlin.Roster of the 26th New York
NPS Soldier Record
Military Notes for all the Soldiers Identified on Liberia's Walls