The Stringfield Pardon

American Civil War Homepage

The Stringfield Pardon
Papers of W. W. Stringfield

Stringfield and the Civil War
Stringfield Family History and Heritage

Have you ever wondered what your ancestor's handwriting or signature looks like? Well, most Civil War-era documents in circulation today are actually later handwritten transcriptions performed by what was known as a copyist. And sometimes the federally employed transcriptionist committed obvious errors. Nevertheless, the original handwriting is absent. While many original Confederate military service records and documents no longer exist, it is invaluable to have access to the originals and then post copies online. The following papers, for instance, show Lt. Col. W. W. Stringfield's Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Amnesty (Parole).

The Stringfield Pardon
W. W. Stringfield, undated.jpg
W. W. Stringfield, undated

Stringfield Military Records
William Stringfield, ca. Civil War.gif
William Stringfield, ca. Civil War

William Williams Stringfield, known by many as W. W. Stringfield, joined the Confederate Army in 1861, was captured (May 1865) one month after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, took the Oath of Allegiance on June 22, 1865, and petitioned President Andrew Johnson for clemency on June 29, 1865. His handwritten letter requesting pardon from the rebellion was received and filed on July 7, 1865, with Stringfield receiving his Executive Pardon by President Johnson on November 13, 1865.
Although he had received an Executive Pardon from President Andrew Johnson, Stringfield now found himself embroiled in several lawsuits filed against him by local citizens claiming that the former lieutenant colonel had caused them to suffer extensive property damage during the late Civil War. Early in the conflict, Stringfield had served as Deputy Provost Marshal of the region and made several enemies by enforcing from Confederate conscription to rounding up deserters to protecting the local citizenry. When anyone, whether for or against the Union, lodged a complaint of wrongdoing to the Deputy, he took the matter seriously, therefore causing no small stir when he returned to the area after the war as a defeated Rebel. But, by being a fair enforcement officer, he had also established friendships and formed some powerful alliances that would soon prove invaluable.
Legal action against him was one thing but it was the innumerable death threats that would force the Tennessean to gather his few belongings postwar and move across the border and reside for the rest of his life in Waynesville, North Carolina. Stringfield had expressed initial concerns about the lawsuits, but when the frivolous accusations placed damages totaling nigh $150,000, he confessed that he would occasionally laugh over such a bogus total. Although the indictments were eventually quashed, a jovial Stringfield would later write, the many charges had revealed the revengeful mindset produced by the Civil War.
The Tennessean would write decades later in his Memoirs of the Civil War, that because East Tennessee was so hotly divided leading up to the Civil War, half for and half against the Union, that it would have been much better if the region had been united entirely for or against the Federal government. Stringfield, having witnessed much deadly postwar sectional strife, said that the region could have reconciled very quickly if everyone had maintained an homogeneous mindset prior to, during and after the late rebellion. He bemoaned that said schism had created such sectional strife among families and neighbors for years after the war, causing from beatings to an unknown number of murders to inhibiting progress and economical development of the entire region.  
It was well-known that death threats were hurled daily against ex-Confederates who had returned to East Tennessee during Reconstruction, Stringfield would reiterate throughout his memoirs. When Governor Brownlow personally endorsed Stringfield's pardon application and exhorted him to remain in East Tennessee, Stringfield, during the meeting, reminded the governor of the beatings and threats. To this, Brownlow replied, carry not one but two pistols and use them if necessary. Stringfield also recalled his acquaintance with Andrew Johnson, a local man who had served as Governor of Tennessee twice before being appointed Military Governor of Tennessee by President Abraham Lincoln. Johnson remains the nation's only Vice President (March 4, 1865 – April 15, 1865) who would afterwards serve in the U.S. Senate.
President Andrew Johnson, a lifelong resident of East Tennessee, had a special fondness for the young former lieutenant colonel, because during his provost duties in East Tennessee during the conflict, although he stated that he was only performing his duty, Stringfield had showed much kindness by providing protection and passage to Johnson's immediate family residing there. On one occasion in 1862, Provost Marshal Stringfield had provided an escort for Johnson's wife and daughter as they ventured from their home in Greeneville through the lines to be with then Vice President Johnson.
Johnson, as was the mindset of this locale, represented one of two factions. As pro-Union, he was also the only seated U.S. Senator who had refused to resign his seat and side with the Confederacy. He had donned two loud hats, like it or not, and one side saw him as hero and the other as traitor. Johnson was hailed by many and hated by many, and that regional attitude extended to the entire Johnson family of East Tennessee. Johnson's loyalty to the Union had however caught the attention of the famed rail-splitter, thus causing him to be handpicked as the Vice President by President Abraham Lincoln himself. Upon Lincoln's assassination, Johnson assumed the presidency. He would be chief executive during Reconstruction, too, an era that witnessed both the worst and best in folks. Some wanted revenge on the Southern traitors, particularly after Lincoln's murder, while others wished for a more amicable reconciliation of the brethren who had gone astray. Johnson preferred the latter believing that it was best and because it was what Lincoln had already planned. After granting Stringfield's pardon, Johnson publically said that it was an act that had brought him much pleasure.
One year prior to Johnson's passing, Stringfield was a delegate en route to the 1874 Southern Methodist General Conference at Louiville, Ky. For a portion of his journey in Tennessee he would share his seat on the train with former President Andrew Johnson, who was keenly aware that Stringfield had previously relocated to North Carolina. The two had a quite a conversation for several hours on this trip, insomuch that Johnson shared an inside view of Lincoln's assassination and even his own impeachment trial. He said to Stringfield that the Northern branch of Methodism was largely to blame for his attempted impeachment. He elaborated by saying that he had copies of the several telegrams from the bishops and other leaders of the Northern Methodist Church urging his removal from office. He then told Stringfield that the reason for the hatred from the Methodist leadership was because during Reconstruction his administration had ordered the Northern Methodists to return all confiscated churches in the South to their rightful congregations.
Johnson stated that "Secretary Stanton was the most consummate tyrant and scoundrel he ever knew," and that "the hanging of Mrs. Surratt for her supposed complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln was not his idea of right or justice, and that he knew nothing of the frantic appeals of Mrs. Surratt's daughter for a reprieve until several months afterward." Johnson said that "the sensational stories told about him while he was president were false, cruelly false and malicious, and that almost every leading newspaper of the opposition helped to circulate these stories to amazing extent."
"At the close of the war, when I turned up in jail in Knoxville and Johnson in the presidency of the United States, I applied to him for pardon," recorded Stringfield. "He granted it, and, as told my attorney, '"with a great deal of pleasure.'" As a man and a statesman, Johnson was unique, concluded Stringfield, but perhaps Johnson thought likewise of Stringfield, who after all was a fellow Tennessean who had also been so misunderstood by so many for so long.

A Civil War Pardon History
A Civil War Pardon History.jpg
Stringfield took the Oath of Allegiance on June 22, 1865

Stringfield Family History and Heritage
Official Civil War Pardon.jpg
Stringfield was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson on Nov. 13, 1865

Stringfield Civil War Pardon
Stringfield Civil War Pardon.jpg
W.W. Stringfield Pardon Application filed on July 7, 1865

See also


Return to American Civil War Homepage

Return to top