The Two Grandsons of Paul Revere who Fought in the Civil War to end the Compromise with Slavery
Paul Revere Jr. 1753-1818 Second Generation Bostonian Famous for his midnight ride and further services to his country.
Joseph Warren Revere 1777- 1868 11th child of Paul Revere Jr.
Paul Joseph Revere 1832-1863 (at birth, his father, Joseph Warren Revere was 55). An Officer in the 20th Harvard Civil War Regiment)
Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere 1827-1862 (graduate of Harvard Medical School, brother to Paul Joseph Revere and son of Joseph Warren Revere. Medical staff of the 20th Harvard Civil War Regiment)
Pauline Revere Thayer 1862-1934 Daughter of Paul Joseph Revere. Great-Grandaughter of Paul Revere Jr., niece to Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere, active in the Wilson, Coolidge and Hoover administration.
Two of Paul Revere’s grandsons endured through the bloody, early indecisive battles of the Civil War. Sadly they did not live to see that their supreme commitment eliminated slavery. Each brother answered Lincoln’s initial emergency call to save the Union. Before they volunteered to serve, they conveyed to their mother that now was the critical moment to amend the Constitution and its compromise with slavery.
Pauline Revere Thayer,[i] Paul's daughter, Edward's niece, quoted in her Memorial . . ., the concluding conversation with their mother.[ii]
“I have weighted it all; and there is something higher still. The institutions of the country, indeed free institutions throughout the world, hang on this moment. ------- I can carry other men with me; and with them must struggled for the freedom and the principles that have built up this nation.---------“
Pauline leaves no doubt the reasons she published her Memorial. . . .
I . . . have published this book. . . with the hope that it may keep alive in the minds and hearts of you all the knowledge of what the war meant, and what our fathers and your grandfathers, and great uncles did for their country fifty years ago. [iii] Published privately in 1913.[iv]
To the brothers and many abolitionists, the libertarian principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal” was undermined by the two compromises with slavery in the U. S. Constitution. Subsequent Congressional compromises over the next eighty years further legitimized the property rights of slave masters.
After the American Revolution, the nation was at an impasse over state rights versus Federal power. The Constitution was initiated to replace the weak Articles of Confederation that initially bound the Thirteen Colonies. To strengthen the Federal government and obtain a two-thirds approval of the Constitution this is what was wrought:
1. Every state received an additional 3/5ths of a vote for each slave, towards seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.[v]
2. Citizens were required to return slaves to their masters. Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3; which requires a "person held to service or labour" (usually a slave, apprentice, or indentured servant) who flees to another state to be returned to the owner in the state from which that person escaped. [vi]
In addition, the Compromise of 1850 strengthened the "Slave Clause": item 2 above. The Constitution required citizens to return self-emancipated slaves. Moreover, it was unlawful if you were deputized and did not cooperate with Federal officials. This law pertained to lay as well as public officials. If you harbored a runaway slave or impeded a slave-hunter you could be fined or arrested and sent to jail for six months. Furthermore, slaves were property. Property could not defend itself in court. Instead of a Habeas Corpus[vii] hearing, a replevin motion was conducted simply to confirm property ownership. Many Northern officials, though heart broken, enforced the law.
The three great slave riots in Boston from 1851 to 1854, radicalized the North against the southern institution of slavery. In 1850 Shadrach Minkins was forcibly freed by the ministers and free black men of Beacon Hill. A year later a riot failed to free Thomas Simms, and he was returned to slavery in Georgia. In 1854, immediately after the Nebraska/Kansas compromise Anthony Burns was arrested leading to an unsuccessful legal challenge to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He was returned to his owner in Virginia.
When did the Union begin unraveling? Threats of secession by South Carolina’s Senator, John Calhoun dated back to 1833, as they resisted Federal tariffs authorized by President Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Calhoun chose to use the term “nullification” in lieu of secession, suggesting a state can randomly select the Federal laws it honors. Federal troops marshaled on the South Carolina border to enforce the tariffs and end South Carolina’s threat of nullification. You can search for “The South Carolina Nullification Controversy” to learn more of this first threat of secession.
Unfortunately, the Constitutional compromises with slavery, over the next eighty years, developed into a political voting rights issue. In the Census of 1860, there were nearly four million slaves in the south and eleven million southern citizens compared to twenty-million nationals in the north. Uniquely, in this same census, South Carolina and Mississippi recorded significantly more slaves than their white population. South Carolina had an aggregate of 291,388 white and 402,406 slaves. Mississippi had 436,631 slaves to 354,574 free.[viii] I am sorry that these numbers are upsetting, but this had to be the practical side of every abolitionist’s concern, particularly the Reveres, in their quest to right the wrongs compromised by the Founding Fathers. With each slave born under the 3/5th voting rights clause in the U. S. Constitution, the South moved closer to legislative dominance. Thanks to the compromises of 1820, 1850 and 1854, the gridlock on slavery reached the conflict stage.
The Reveres of the antebellum generation wrestled with the practical impact of the above compromises. In Boston, most abolitionists felt a second revolution was necessary to correct the first. Those at the cutting edge of the argument, such as William Lloyd Garrison, preferred DisUnion[ix] from the South if slavery could not be legislatively eliminated. With this historical background, Paul Revere’s two grandsons and his great-nephew volunteered for the Union Army. They served in the Harvard 20th regiment of volunteers and the 7th New Jersey regiment, respectively.
Their first battle was Ball’s Bluff: nothing short of a tragedy. Paul Revere was a Major and led his men up the hillside to attack the Rebels forming up on the plateau. A sketch below will show you the steep terrain that guaranteed a demoralizing, Union defeat. Edward believed that his place was at the front rather than a field hospital in the rear. The Union troops, though not experienced, fought with discipline near to the end. They were overwhelmed by a larger Confederate force that had the advantage of controlling the high ground. Many of the Harvard and accompanying regiments retreated to the river’s edge. Those that could not swim were obliged to surrender, others swam for their lives. Dozens of Union soldiers drowned in the swift current of the Potomac River. Paul and Edward remained on the Virginia side with the remnants of their regiment, until their superiors arranged an orderly surrender.
The brothers were paroled four months after capture, under the concept of parole d’honneur. Conceptually it meant they were free to go home, but they would not serve in the military again until a formal exchange of officers was concluded. Pauline Revere Thayer, annotated in her Memorial . . .of the brothers that after four difficult months in captivity they remained firmly dedicated to emancipation. In prison and combat in enemy territory, their commitment was reinforced by excruciating examples of the cruelty of slavery. Whippings of female slaves and lewd acts were conducted under the makeshift prison that served as a magistrate’s court and jail.
A formal exchange completed two months after returning to Massachusetts freed the Revere brothers to return to military service with the Harvard Regiment. In advance, the family had a formal dinner. Their father, Joseph Warren Revere, gave a speech and toast. He reflected back on the Revolutionary War victory at Yorktown resulting in British General Cornwallis’ surrender and the news he heard that evening from the town crier at 3:00 a.m. . . . .”Cornwallis is taken.” He reflected that very few men are alive to speak of it. [x] Their father, contemplating his age, of 85, openly commented on the likelihood that he would be gone by the time his sons returned from the Civil War.
Pauline described in her Memorial that the room was “still as death and the whole thing unspeakable. I can see Paul’s dignified air and pale, calm face: and Edward, leaning forward, intently hanging upon every word as his father finished by saying “you will do your duty also in Yorktown, bowed to his sons and raised his glass and said to them ‘Pass the wine to others. This was merely a matter between the boys and me. I have done all that I shall do to-day.’" [xi]
Unfortunately, Paul Revere Jr. and Joseph Warren Revere suffered a parent’s worst nightmare. Both the Patriot that rode to Lexington and his son the industrialist that made copper cannon and sheathing for the navy lived to see their children laid to rest. Elder Paul Revere survived eleven of his sixteen children, and Joseph Warren Revere outlived his two oldest sons, killed in the two most pivotal battles of the Civil War.
On the return to duty from captivity, Dr. Edward Revere was killed by a bullet through the heart, attending the wounded at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862; a victory that would result in the first Emancipation Proclamation. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr[xii]., was a captain in Paul Joseph Revere’s 20th Harvard Regiment. He saw Edward “. .kneeling in ministration to a wounded man just in rear of our lines at Antietam, his horse’s bridle round his arm----the next moment his ministrations were ended.” [xiii] Paul Joseph Revere received a foot wound at this same battle and returned home to Massachusetts to heal. Paul was told by a surgeon at the scene of the fight, that his brother was safe. Just an hour after his arrival in Boston the family received news that Edward died in the field at Antietam.[xiv]
It was typical of Edward Revere to be embedded with the front line soldiers, but it was not a regular Union Army practice. His senior officers gave him several opportunities to operate in the rear in the many battles that he, his brother and the Harvard 20th Regiment were engaged. Edward saw the greater benefit of dressing the wounds in the field to save soldiers from subsequent death by infection.
On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg a canister full of bullets exploded overhead penetrating Paul’s vital organs; he died two days later on July 4th, as the fight ended, knowing that he contributed to the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. He had survived seven other engagements and four months in captivity with his brother before his death on Independence Day 1863.
A telegram was sent home but his mother, brother, sister and wife arrived too late. The family buried Paul alongside his brother Edward, at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Years later Pauline extracted this entry from her mother’s journal of her sons deaths;
“A battle took place on the 2nd of July, in which Paul was mortally wounded at the head of his regiment. . . The lesson has been widely different from what we expected; and we know we have had no peculiar claim to so much blessing. Now the chief object is to be cheerfully resigned to the will of God; to treasure the recollection of their strong, dutiful lives, and the hope that the discipline they endured had fitted them to ascend to a more perfect happiness . . .and to remember the high motives that led them to leave so much. . .to give themselves for what they thought the benefit of mankind. . . They knew the risk they ran. They knew they carried with them our heart’s blood. But the conflict must be met. Can I doubt that God raised them . . .and closed their lives for some heavenly purpose?”[xv]
In closing, permit us a final word on the 20th Harvard Volunteer Regiment. Initially, the Regiment was staffed by all Harvard University students or graduates. To maintain control of the rank and file of a regiment, officers needed to muster 813 recruits and restore that level upon losses. A single university was hard pressed to replace the significant losses, sustained in the battles of Northern Virginia. Consequently, the ranks were replenished with recruits from Nantucket, Germany, England and Irishmen of Boston and Ireland, mustered into the Regiment to meet the quota and maintain Harvard's hold on the officer positions and promotions. This new practice was very controversial. Many recruits did not speak English enlisting in Europe to fund the cost of transportation to America. They were thrust into battle with insufficient preparation but gained the respect of the Harvard Officers Corp for their tenacity in battle. The immigrants literally fought for emancipation; theirs as well as the slaves.
P.S. Joseph Warren Revere Jr,. cousin to Edward and Paul served in the Civil War as a Brigadier General with the New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. His military career was international and enduring but ended with some controversy.
Of Special Mention:
My sincere thanks for the excellent support by the historians at The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois for their extra effort producing a copy of Pauline Revere Thayer’s private publication.
Thayer, Pauline Revere., Paul Joseph Revere, and Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere. A memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere. Coulter Press, Clinton, MA. 1874: Reprinted, 1913. Original on file and provided by Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield Illinois and Museum,
"The Revere Award / The Revere Brothers." Revere Brothers - oldecolonycwrt. Accessed September 08, 2017. https://sites.google.com/site/oldecolonycwrt/Home/revere-brothers.7th paragraph. Higginson, General Thomas Wentworth,Biography, ed. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1866.
Miller, Richard F. Harvard's Civil War: a history of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005.
[i] Daughter of Paul Joseph Revere and niece of Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere. 1862-1934. Very active in the Wilson and Coolidge and Hoover administration.
[ii] Thayer, Pauline Revere., et al. A memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere. Clinton, MA, Reprinted, 1913. Original on file and provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield Il.,62701,Intro.
[iii] Thayer, Pauline Revere., et al. A memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere. Clinton, MA, Reprinted, 1913. Original on file and provided by Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield Il.,62701,Intro.
[iv] IBID, Introduction
[v] Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3, United States Constitution approved 1789
[vi] Wikipedia, s available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License;
[vii] A hearing that must take place in 24 hours so a defendant can hear the charges and the lawful reasons for detention.
[viii] The Civil War Home Page, 1860_Census.html
[ix] A simple concept that if slavery was not eliminated the North must form its own union and secede from the South.
[x] Paraphrasing from page 111, Pauline Revere Thayer’s memoirs.
[xi] Ibid page 111.
[xii] He will become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1902, famour for his remarks that “The life of the law has not been logic but experience.” “Clear and present danger” is the only basis for limiting free speech.
[xiii] "The Revere Award / The Revere Brothers." Revere Brothers - oldecolonycwrt.
Accessed September 08, 2017
[xiv] Thayer, Pauline Revere., Paul Joseph Revere, and Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere. A memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere. Coulter Press, Clinton, MA. 1874: Reprinted, 1913. Original on file and provided by Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield Illinois and Museum, Fiche copy New England Genealogical Society, Boston, Mass. P. 147.
[xv] Thayer, Pauline Revere., Paul Joseph Revere, and Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere. A memorial of Paul Joseph Revere and Edward H.R. Revere. Coulter Press, Clinton, MA. 1874: Reprinted, 1913.
Original on file and provided by Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield Illinois and Museum, p.175-177 Fiche copy New England Genealogical Society, Boston, Mass.
[xvi] Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Pauline Revere Thayer’s Private edition.1913
Family burial site; Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge Mass.
Plot: Walnut Avenue, Lot 286
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Oct 15, 2001
Find A Grave Memorial# 5845791
Thank you for this family article. I often wondered about Paul Revere's brother, Edward. Our family plot at Mt. Auburn is on Harebell Path about 150 or feet from your relatives graves.
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