The internment of J. Allison Eyster

Call me strange, but I really enjoy doing hours of research on random people I find whilst reading Civil War-related materials. It’s my idea of a good time.

Browsing on the Valley of the Shadow site late this afternoon brought to my attention one J. Allison Eyster. Chambersburg’s wealthiest merchant during the war, Eyster possessed about $82,000 in assets (today equivilent to approximately $1,776,000.)

The man obviously had a knack for business, as he was quickly awarded the contract to supply provisions to the soldiers at Camp Slifer. Besides the contract, Eyster also did what we can infer to be well over $11,000 of sutlering to Patterson’s army. And this is apparently what got him into trouble.

Eyster was taken prisoner near Winchester, Virginia on the day after First Manassas without any discernable cause. He was first imprisoned in a Richmond tobacco warehouse with several other civilian prisoners, men from Waynesboro, and then detained in the County Prison until his release in early October.

From the reports of commissioners on various political arrests in the official records of the Confederate Army:
“He [J. Allison Eyster] is a Pennsylvania [sic] and a resident of Chambersburg. He is a wealthy merchant, well known in Baltimore; addicted sometimes to intemperance. He voted for Lincoln, but declares that he was entirely opposed to the war. He acted as a sutler in some sort to Patterson’s army, selling it a large amount of goods on account of which there is still due to him he says about $11,000, to collect which he says he followed that army into Virginia, where he was arrested at the instance of his connection, Jonas Chamberlain, of Frederick County, whose affidavit is herewith returned. Chamberlain says that Eyster came to his house very drunk, and came into Virginia in a drunken frolic under Patterson’s pass. I see no reason to detain Eyster unless as a hostage for the safety of our people who are in the bands of the enemy.”

While doing the research on Eyster, I noticed that a great many of the prisoners in the other reports had been arrested for basically no reason. This caused me to do some research on habeas corpus during the war. I’d known that Lincoln had suspended it in response to riots and whatnot, but I never realized (or really even thought about it for that matter) that Davis had suspended it as well.

New York Times (Oct 7 1861)
The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (p. 1427)
Valley Spirit (May 1, Jul 31, Oct 9 1861)

Crossposted to my blog, Ten Roads.