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Francis the Ripper?

The “Ads of the Age” item in the August issue, featuring Dr. Tumblety’s “pimple banishing” cream, drew several letters, including the following.

The caption in the “Ads of the Age” for Dr. Tumblety’s pimple banisher poses the question, “Would you trust a doctor named ‘Tumblety’?” I don’t know for certain, but I believe the doctor in question was purveyor of quack medicines Francis Tumblety.

The ad cites a New York City address for the doctor, and Tumblety did live in New York City for a time. During the Civil War he moved to Washington, D.C., and claimed to be a well-connected Army surgeon. He bragged of friendships with Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, as well as other prominent generals and politicians.

Shortly after the war, Tumblety, who occasionally used the alias J.H. Blackburn, was arrested and charged with two crimes, one linking him to the Lincoln assassination and the other as an accomplice in a plot to spread yellow fever across the North through the circulation of infected blankets. He was exonerated on both occasions.

In 1993 author Stewart Evans discovered a letter written in 1913 by Inspector John Littlefield of the London police linking Tumblety to London’s infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders. Evans paired with Paul Gainey to write the 1995 book Jack the Ripper, the First American Serial Killer.

Evans and Gainey document Tumblety’s reported hatred of women, his failed marriage and his odd collection of female body parts, including uteri. They note that he was arrested as a suspect for the London murders, a string of crimes that ended after Tumblety fled to France in 1888. Littlefield and others considered him a prime suspect, as do many contemporary Ripperologists.

For more on “Dr.” Tumblety’s Jack the Ripper connection, visit suspects/tumblety.html.

Rich Hanson

Monmouth, Ill.

Setting the Record Straight

Several readers responded to Tracy Thompson’s essay “Reimagining the South” about her Civil War ancestors in the June issue.

I enjoyed “Reimagining the South,” but I take exception—as I am sure other readers will, too—with the author’s statement, “We are the only Americans who have ever had a war fought on their own soil.” The governor of Pennsylvania made a similar statement several years ago during the rededication of the Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg National Military Park. Leaving out the relatively short, but unpleasant, experiences of the citizens of Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign, as well as citizens in other campaigns in Maryland, Kansas, West Virginia, Missouri and New Mexico (none of which are considered part of the traditional South), I must note there were indeed other wars fought on American soil, and not just in the South.

The American Revolution, for example, started in Massachusetts. Besides the many battles fought in that state during the revolution, there were also engagements—and depredations on both sides—across New England, as well as in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. We also can’t overlook the War of 1812, the savage King Philip’s War of 1675-76, and even the Mexican War, which though not technically fought on American soil at the time, was indeed contested partly in territory that became the states of Texas and California.

I agree that the sufferings of the South cannot be ignored or trivialized, but we shouldn’t exaggerate them.

B.C. Milligan

Savage, Md.

My cousins and I, as well as other residents of Randolph County, Ala., are often perplexed by the public service records, muster rolls and confusing family stories left behind by our ancestors. One of my cousins has relayed stories, handed down over the generations, of my 3rd-great-grandmother, “Granny Barnett,” who referred to Northerners only as “damn Yankees.” Granny said her husband died of his injuries years after the war, and told how she and her cousins fled marauding Union troops to avoid being raped. Yet her father served as a Randolph County school superintendent right after the war, and her uncle, an alleged member of the Alabama Peace Society, was elected justice of the peace during the conflict.

We’ve learned that although many of our ancestors served in a Randolph County home guard, there is little reason to believe they were loyal to the Confederacy. It is becoming more apparent that Larkin Breed’s Mounted Infantry Regiment was a local defense unit consisting of Republicans and antiwar Southerners. Those family members who served in the Rebel army probably feared for their lives and their families’ safety.

Some of us are considering placing a bronze plaque in one of the family cemeteries explaining their lives and why, even though they may have Confederate headstones on their graves, they were actually pro-Union or antiwar.

I’m relieved to discover we’re not the only ones trying to unravel our families’ complex Southern history. For anyone who might be interested, the following Web site might be helpful: www.finda

David H. Walker

Ardmore, Ala.

Mean-Spirited Union Pariah

In “Cavalier Gunner” by Robert J. Trout (June 2008), Thaddeus Stevens is referred to as a Republican senator from Pennsylvania known for his vitriolic anti-Southern rhetoric. Although the second part of that observation is correct, it must be pointed out that Stevens twice served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1849-1853 and 1859- 1868) but never represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate.

In the era before senators were directly elected by the people, it is hard to imagine a person less likely to engender the support of the appointing authority for such a post (i.e., the state senate) than Stevens. He was widely known to be mean-spirited, narrow-minded, of singular purpose and in possession of a sharp, caustic and thoroughly unpleasant tongue. He was apparently a bitter prune clothed in the wrapping of a sour apple skin.

Colonel Charles T. Knowles (ret.)

Wickford, R.I.

Confederate Cemetery in New York

Upon seeing your “Prison Pen” quiz in the April 2008 issue, which sought the identity of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, I recalled that there are several similar prisons in New York. In fact, a speck of land in the middle of New York Harbor originally known as “Bedloe’s Island” became home to Fort Wood. Most of Fort Wood is now gone, and the island is now called “Liberty Island,” home of the Statue of Liberty.

As a child, I often explored a cemetery in Brooklyn called “Union Field,” not far from Cypress Hills National Cemetery, one of the 14 original national cemeteries established during the Civil War. About 7,000 Civil War veterans are buried in Cypress Hill, the third most after Arlington and Gettysburg. That includes several hundred former Confederates, whose headstones rise to a slight peak, as was the custom. When I first saw those headstones, I looked closer and noticed the initials “CSA” and the soldiers’ names and wondered how they got there. My brother told me they were probably POWs who died in captivity.

Many of the graves were for soldiers from North Carolina. One was in “Deneal’s Choctaw Indian Regiment,” and there were also several under headstones listed as “Unknown.” There must be more than 500 Confederate headstones in the cemetery, and I have often wondered if their descendants know they are buried there.

Matt Desmond

Ridgewood, N.Y.


In the August 2008 feature “The Generals Speak: Should We Listen?”the reproduction of Gilbert Gaul’s illustration “Holding the Line” on P. 52 was credited to Valentine Richmond History Center, when in fact it should have been credited to Private Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library International.


Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.