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Painter Horace Bonham was accused of disloyalty during the Civil War

A group of Civil War reenactors pause on the steps of Horace Bonham’s post-war house in York PA (Scott Mingus photo)

Horace Bonham is a well-known name in 19th-century art circles. Born November 25, 1835, in York, PA, he studied abroad after the Civil War and became noted as a prolific painter of portraits, group or crowd scenes, and scenery before his death in 1892. His artwork hangs in several galleries and collections, including the National Gallery of Art. During his lifetime, he was also an attorney and a newspaperman, editing the York Republican from 1860-1862.

His increasingly vocal support of President Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party garnered him a coveted political appointment as the assessor of internal revenue for the 15th district of Pennsylvania.

In other words, he was the Federal tax collector for this region.

Apparently, he made some enemies along the way, as evidenced by a letter I recently found in the Dr. St. John Mintzer Papers of the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, housed on the upper floor of the Mutter Museum (which granted permission for me to cite this letter). Despite his political post, someone accused Bonham of disloyalty to the U. S. government, a charge at times had serious consequences in the Civil War years. A York-born Regular Army major, Granville O. Haller, saw his career ruined by similar charges.

Horace Bonham’s April 24, 1865 letter to Dr. Mintzer (the surgeon in charge of the U. S. Army hospital in York) is in response to a previous series of letters, the whereabouts of which is currently unknown. By the time Bonham wrote his reply, President Lincoln was dead, having expired nine days earlier from a gunshot wound to the head. Emotions ran high in the weeks after the assassination, and numerous people across the country faced disloyalty accusations, many if which were unfounded or misinterpreted in the passion of the post-assassination chaos.

Living historians encamped in the yard/gardens behind the Bonham House (Scott Mingus photo).

York PA, April 24th 1865


I have just got your letter of this date and will add one word more to what I have already written to you.

I am positively told to say that all the surgeons at the Hospital (except four) have signed the charges of implied disloyalty contained in the petition of this man Young.

I am not acquainted with any of the surgeons who have thus endorsed Young’s charges, except, perhaps, Dr. [Alexander R.] Blair, with whom I am slightly acquainted & I am puzzled to know why he should countenance by his official signature charges which he cannot but know to be unfounded.

Why the other surgeons who do not know me & who are not residents of this district or allied, in any way, with the business interests of this community, should give their official influence to displace me from a local office, upon such gross charges as disloyalty, I do not pretend to say.

While I do not apprehend that any change will be made (for I have, happily, friends at Washington, in official positions, who know my political character better that the surgeons at the hospital do,) I still feel that it is due to myself to ask of the authorities that a thorough inquiry be made by the Revenue agents, as to the truth or falsity of the implied and asserted charges in the petition of this man Young.

Whatever the result of such an inquiry may be I am willing that it may be publicly known — nay I am anxious that it shall be known for I feel assured that it cannot but be creditable to myself however it may affect other parties concerned.

I am respectfully,

Horace Bonham

To Surgeon Mintzer

U. S. Hospital