“An afflicted father” – Peter Turck’s 1862 letter to Gen. Butler

This week our attention has been turned to New Orleans, the adopted home of Peter Turck’s eldest son—and Mary (Turck) Clark’s younger brother—Joseph R. Turck. Our previous post, J. R. Turck – from Mequon to New Orleans, sketched a brief outline of Joseph’s life, including a half century lived in the Crescent City. That post also discussed Joseph’s very brief service in a Confederate “home guard” militia unit during the Civil War, and how he had lost touch with his Wisconsin family during and after the capture of New Orleans in 1862.

A rare Peter Turck manuscript

We have a number of examples of Peter Turck’s signature—and an occasional bit of text in his hand—from various land documents, marriage licenses, federal census pages, citizen petitions, and other documents from the 1840s to the 1860s. Today’s document is the only letter I have seen in Peter Turck’s own hand, and it gives us a rare insight into Peter Turck’s paternal feelings (as expressed in the typically florid and deferential language of the era) and some additional details about the life of his eldest son, Joseph.1 It’s an interesting letter, and I thought you might like to read it.

Turck’s letter is preserved as part of National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) publication M345, Papers Relating to Citizens, compiled 1861 – 1867. These are letters sent by U.S. civilians to the Provost Marshal’s office of the Union Army. The Provost Marshal was, essentially, the chief of the military police in an area occupied by Union troops.

This letter was published in NARA series M345, microfilm roll 0270, item Joseph R. Turck. It’s accessible online at Fold3.com (pay site). The transcription is mine, and preserves Peter Turck’s occasional curious spelling or punctuation errors. The original letter appears to cover two sides of a single sheet of paper. The original envelope was not microfilmed; it was probably discarded by the New Orlean’s provost marshal’s staff in 1862.

Milwaukee, July 25th 1862

Turck, Peter to Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, July 25, 1862, page 1 of 2. NARA publication M345 Papers Relating to Citizens, compiled 1861 – 1867. Roll 0270, Joseph R. Turck, Fold3.com, accessed 20 March 2014. Click to open larger image in new window.

State of Wisconsin
Milwaukee July 25th 1862

Benjamin F. Butler
Major General Commanding of the
City of New Orleans           

Dear Sir, Permit an afflicted Father through your official capacity or aid to make enquiry of the present situation & whereabout of his son Joseph R. Turck who for the past 12 years [sic2] was a resident of the City of New Orleans. & from whom no tidings since May 1862. have been received by his anxious parent and numerous friends in this State. Indulging the hope that he may yet be alive & in your city (now again under the protection of the Glorious Stars & Stripes the American Flag,) I have therefore taken the liberty though a stranger to ask your aid to assertain if he is yet alive and a resident of the city. and should he be found alive & on the Side of the union of the United States such information would rejoice my affected heart. but if found an[d] on the Side of Traitors, then if consistant with Public Justice, upon his repentance & return to duty as a loyal citizen of the United States, deal kindly &

Turck’s letter continues on the other side of the page:

“…deal kindly & be lenient with him…”

Turck, Peter to Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, July 25, 1862, page 2 of 2. NARA publication M345 Papers Relating to Citizens, compiled 1861 – 1867. Roll 0270, Joseph R. Turck, Fold3.com, accessed 20 March 2014. Click to open larger image in new window.

[deal kindly & be] lenient with him as I am perswaded you will do. from what I have learnt of you, from a perusal of your official correspondances & a brief answer or reply to the foregoing will be greatfully received by the undersigned

your Obedient
Servant, Peter Turck

P. S. we [have] written several letters to him since the occupation of the City by yourself & noble troops under your command without any answer, hence couse [cause?] of the above & Joseph R. Turck was by trade & Business a Joiner & Carpenter, had also a limited practical knowledge of Mill Righting & Engineering

The Provost Marshal takes note

The bottom third of the second side of the letter contains several notes made, we assume, by the Provost Marshal or his staff:

Turck, Peter to Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, July 25, 1862, page 2 of 2, detail, rotated to view notations. NARA publication M345 Papers Relating to Citizens, compiled 1861 – 1867. Roll 0270, Joseph R. Turck, Fold3.com, accessed 20 March 2014. Click to open larger image in new window.

I’m not really sure what the top line says; I assume it refers to some kind of filing or numbering system used to manage the Provost Marshal’s copious paperwork. The notations are:

[?] T. ~ 1 ~ (D. G.) 1862

Milwaukee, Wis.

July 25 1862
Peter Turck

Relative to his son Joseph R. Turck

Citizens- [i.e., the so-called Citizens File?]

[added in pencil]  Find out whereabouts

The Clark and Turck families on the home front.

As I mentioned last time, I have yet to locate an official reply to Peter Turck’s 1862 letter—or learned whether the Provost Marshal found Joseph’s “whereabouts” in 1862. But we do know that J. R. Turck survived the war and went on to live a full life. For more on that, see J. R. Turck – from Mequon to New Orleans.

These were also eventful years for Jonathan Clark’s widow, Mary Turck Clark, and her eight children. Sometime in 1861/62 Mary and the children left their Mequon farmhouse and moved to Milwaukee to share a home with her widower father, Peter Turck, and near her younger brother James B. Turck and his family.

Jonathan and Mary’s only son, Henry Clark, was too young for the 1862 Civil War draft, but many of his friends were volunteering to serve, and Henry may have been drafted in 1863. (Whether he served or not is something we will continue to look into.)

Coming up

I’ve got lots of information, documents and illustrations lined up for future posts, including more on Henry Clark, more on transportation in the 1830s through 1850s, and many other aspects of Clark House history.

Do you have any questions, comments, or vexing Mequon history mysteries? Let me know, and I’ll do my best to find the answers and share them here on the blog.

Be well. See you next time.



  1. The catalog of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Area Research Center (ARC) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee lists another Peter Turck letter, from 1844. It is part of the collection Wisconsin. Legislature: Miscellaneous Correspondence 1836-1941, Series 201, Box 1. The finding aid indicates that it is a citizen petition, desiring legislative action on canal lands and a divorce case. I have not been able to see this letter yet. (I’ll let you know once I do!)

  2. In this 1862 letter, Peter Turck states that Joseph had been in New Orleans for some 12 years, suggesting Joseph arrived there around mid-1850. Joseph R. Turck’s April 26, 1902, obituary in the New Orleans Item newspaper states that Joseph R. Turck had lived in New Orleans for 54 years, i.e., as early as 1848. Other evidence that I’ve seen suggests 1848 as well, but I’m not completely certain about the date Joseph Turck left Wisconsin and permanently relocated to Louisiana.

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