Keepers · News · Research

Lighthouse Service Employees Drafted for Service in the Civil War

National Archives, Record Group 26, Entry 24 “Letters Received from District Engineers and Inspectors, ca. 1853 – 1900” (Letterbook 170)

Mrs. Henry Schmuck became keeper of the North Point Light Station in Maryland in 1864, not because her keeper husband died, but because he was drafted. On September 24, 1864, 5th District Inspector Hugh Y. Purviance in Baltimore wrote that “Henry Schmuck, keeper of North Point Lighthouses, has been drafted in the service of the United States; please notify me if he comes within order No. 28, issued by the Provost Marshal General. The keeper is required to report on September 26 in the District Provost Marshal’s Office. He is a valuable man to the Department, and . . . his exemption would no doubt advance its interests.”

On September 27, 1864, Inspector Purviance wrote “relative to the keeper of North Point Light House, who was to report the next day to the district provost marshal tomorrow for duty.” If you should not succeed in procuring his release, I would recommend the transfer of the light to his wife—they are both worthy people and have an interesting little family.”

Mrs. Henry Schmuck succeeded her husband as keeper in October 1864.

Was it common for lighthouse employees to be drafted? It’s fairly well known that most military officers serving as district lighthouse inspectors and engineers were recalled to active duty during the Civil War and the Light-House Board struggled to find civilians to perform their duties.

In her research on the Lighthouse Service in the Civil War, Society member and author Mary Louise Clifford has found a few references to this issue. In most cases it appears that the Light-House Board asked for, and received, exemptions to the draft for their employees.

In December 1863 Inspector Purviance had reported that C.M. Netherwood, the Mate of the Lighthouse and Buoy Tender Chase had been recently drafted into the military service. Commodore Purviance recommended that if possible, he be exempted because it would be extremely difficult to replace him. “Seamen employed on board the Revenue Cutters have heretofore been exempted and as the Revenue and Lighthouse Establishment are similar, it is respectfully recommended that Mr. Netherwood be relieved from the operation of the draft.”

In July 1864 6th District Acting Lighthouse Inspector C. O. Boutelle reported that Mr. Frank M. Bourne, Master of the light vessel stationed at Martins Industry at the entrance to Port Royal, South Carolina, has been drafted at New Bedford, Massachusetts. Mr. Boutelle recommended that his exemption be obtained on the ground of the necessities of the public service. Two days later the Secretary of War reported the discharge from military duty of F. M. Bourne, master of the Martins Industry Light Vessel.

Acting Engineer and Inspector Max Bonzano in New Orleans was drafted. He wrote to Major General V.P. Banks, Commanding Department of the Gulf, on May 4, 1865: “I would respectfully beg leave to submit to your notice that I am in the service of the US Light-House Board, as their engineer and inspector for the 8th and 9th Districts, embracing the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from St. Marks, FL, to the Rio Grande, and that I am specially charged with the reconstruction of the various aids to navigation and the supervision of the service of the lights. As the service which I render in this capacity being directly useful to the Army and Navy, I venture to request respectfully that you may be please exempt me from duty under the draft.” Fortunately the war ended soon after this letter was written and Bonzano continued rebuilding the light stations along the Gulf coast until 1868.

National Archives Record Group 26 Entry 5 (NC-63) “Records of the Seventh & Eighth Light-House Districts (Key West, Mobile & New Orleans)” Volume 118

Does anyone have other examples of lighthouse keepers being drafted into service during the Civil War?

Submitted by Mary Louise Clifford, April 12, 2017. Ms. Clifford’s sources include correspondence from Entries 1, 5, 20, 24, 106, in National Archives Record Group 26.

*    *    *    *

U.S. Lighthouse Society News is produced by the U.S. Lighthouse Society to support lighthouse preservation, history, education and research. Please consider joining the U.S. Lighthouse Society if you are not already a member. If you have items of interest to the lighthouse community and its supporters, please email them to

4 thoughts on “Lighthouse Service Employees Drafted for Service in the Civil War

  1. Robert Marshall was a keeper here at the Piney Point Lighthouse from 1861-1865. How can I find out if he was exmpted from the draft? Apparently he had been threatened by southern symptherisers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.