The Last Box

Today’s post was written by Katy Berube, who spent her summer interning in textual processing.

A U.S. President’s signature, Civil War veterans, and a 19th Century labor strike…oh my!  Box 273 of the Appointment Files for Judicial Districts 1853-1905 (National Archives Identifier 734590) was the last box I examined for possible records of interest to digitize as part of my summer internship project in the civilian textual processing center at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and it turned out to be a gem. There were two files in this last box that held the appointment records for two Civil War veterans.  These records really brought the appointment process alive for me personally.

In the mid-19th Century, government positions were held at the pleasure of the President.  Hence, the application letters of the early years in this series are frequently addressed to “His Excellency the President of the United States.”  I never expected, however, to run across a note actually written by a President of the United States!  Opening up the file 1869-1873 Indiana Gresham, W.Q. (National Archives Identifier 5973175), however, I was thrilled to find a note dated September 1, 1869 written by President Ulysses S. Grant requesting the documents for Walter Q. Gresham’s appointment to the position of U.S. District Judge for the District of Indiana for his review and approval.1 The note is written on executive mansion letterhead and has President Grant’s signature.  President Grant’s interest in the appointment can be explained by the fact that Walter Q. Gresham was a Colonel of the 53rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry and fought in Grant’s Tennessee Campaign in 1862.2  Additionally, Gresham was later wounded in Sherman’s Atlanta campaign where he commanded a division of the 17th Army Corps.3 This appointment to the position of District Judge became one of several federal government positions Walter Q. Gresham would hold as he would later become U.S. Postmaster General, U.S. Secretary of Treasury, and U.S. Secretary of State for subsequent Presidents.4

A direct appointment letter by the President seems pretty hard to top but for more personal reasons I found the next record to be equally compelling. In the file 1869-1873 Indiana Spooner, B (National Archives Identifier 5973183) I found a letter of support written December 19, 1864 from the citizens of the State of Indiana to President Abraham Lincoln.5 In this letter the citizens write of Colonel Benjamin Spooner’s heroic service in the Civil War and the loss of his arm in battle. They further go on to articulate their strong belief that “it is but justice that these sacred veterans, these disabled patriots should have these places in preference to those who have not suffered to preserve the integrity of the Country and her institutions.”6 As the wife of a Navy Reservist, reading the words and the commitment to veterans from citizens from Spooner’s community made me smile. A decorated veteran, Benjamin Spooner would go on to become the U.S. Marshal for the District of Indiana from 1865 to 1879.7

As if the records alone weren’t enough, I was fascinated to learn that both of these men would go on to work together to keep the Indiana railroads operating in the wake of a financial panic in 1873 that ultimately led to a B&W train strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in July of 1877.8 During the strike, Judge Gresham expressed clear sympathy with the property rights of the railroad corporations while Marshal Spooner focused on ensuring the trains with U.S. mail ran and public safety was maintained.9  This early strike foreshadowed the many challenges the labor movement would face in years to come in their battle to win fair wages and safe working environments for workers.

Box 273 was a great way to end the project. I continue to be amazed at what you can find when you open up a box at the National Archives!


1 President Grant Note; Indiana 1869-1873.

2“Water Q. Gresham,” NNDB: tracking the entire world, accessed August 12, 2011,

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Indiana Citizens to Lincoln; Indiana, 1865-1869.

6 Ibid, 2.

7  “Benjamin J. Spooner,” Find a Grave, accessed August 12, 2011,

8 Frederick S. Calhoun, The Lawmen: United States Marshals and Their Deputies, 1789-1989, (New York:  Penguin Group, 1991), 201-201.

9 Ibid, 204.


Calhoun, Frederick S. The Lawmen: United States Marshals and Their Deputies, 1789-1989. New York: Penguin Group, 1991.

Find a Grave. “Benjamin J. Spooner.” Accessed August 12, 2011.

Letter of support for Col. Benjamin Spooner from citizens of the State of Indiana to President Abraham Lincoln, December 19, 1864 (Indiana Citizens to Lincoln); 1865-  1869 Indiana Spooner, B. (Indiana, 1865-1869); 350 Appointment Files for Judicial Districts, 1853-1905; RG60 Records Relating to the Appointment of Federal Judges, Marshals, and Attorneys; National Archives Building II, College Park, MD.

NNDB: tracking the entire world. “Walter Q. Gresham.” Accessed August 12, 2011.

Note written by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, September 1, 1869 (President Grant Note); 1869-1873 Indiana Gresham, W.Q. (Indiana, 1869-1873); 350 Appointment Files for Judicial Districts, 1853-1905; RG60 Records Relating to the Appointment of Federal Judges, Marshals, and Attorneys; National Archives Building II, College Park,