John S. Maxwell

John S. Maxwell was born on February 4, 1845
in Cohoes, NY and died in May of 1929, at the
age of 85. His parents came to the US from
Harwick, Scotland in 1840. John Maxwell was a
pioneer knitting mill operator in Amsterdam, NY
and was married, in Amsterdam, on May 16,
1867 to Frances Vedder (died June 24, 1910).
He later married Helen M. Francis.
John enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Landsman.
He served on the Vermont, A.D. Vance, North
Carolina, Genessee, Baltic and the Morgan.
He served on the A.D. Vance at the Battle of
Fort Fisher.
He was elected as the Commander,
Department of New York, Grand Army of the
Republic, 1906.
Amsterdam Record, May 19, 1929

John S. Maxwell – Age 17– Civil War Letters

Sept. 9, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Several thousand men on board. First supper was hard tack and coffee. A week to go before hammocks arrive. Sleeping on the floor. Baggage from home is stolen from many of the ‘boys’. Referred to an $800 bounty for joining.

Sept. 19, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Not much happening yet and boredom experienced by most. His mother must have expressed concern in her letters to him. He says: “I put my trust in an “Over-Ruling Providence”. Commits to writing a daily log of his ship board experiences.

Sept. 30, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
More sailors (some draftees) still coming on board. Tomorrow some fresh meat and soup. He reflects on “mother’s tea and pumpkin pie”.

Oct. 6, 1864 — The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Wrote to Edward (who recently joined the infantry). “We have music every night on deck: banjo, fiddle, and accordion, with songs such as “Home Sweet Home” and “Do They Think of me at Home”. Daily routine: “4:30 a.m rise, wash the deck and pump the ship, till seven when we eat our tack and drink coffee. Roll call at eight. After roll call, the sailors do what they please until six and then standby their hammocks. “Every night some of the men try to escape. Most are caught by little Police boats. “I find many kind hearted, good “moral” young men – although the most of them are the opposite.”

Oct. 13, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Wrote to Edward. Spoke to the Captain’s Clerk this forenoon about getting drafted (assigned). He says he will try and get us all together in the next draft for the “Blockade” We have to give him something for doing it – ten dollars apiece. I would rather do it than stay here a month longer.

Oct. 16, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In the service for six weeks. Having pork and beans for dinner today and hard tack for “dessert”. “I am getting to understand sailor’ phrases pretty well now. To his mother, he says “This Cruel War” will be over and we (his brother too) will come home again.”

Oct. 24, 1864 – The “Vermont” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
“The “Augusta”, a gunboat, is just starting. She is going to Wilmington.

Nov. 6, 1864 – on board the “A.D. Vance” at sea.
Sailed last Sunday. Hauled into Sandy Hook until morning. Set off for Fortress Monroe. Wednesday night off Hattress, “didn’t the old hop rock some!” A great mountainous wave would sweep clean over the bow of the ship. We are on the South Carolina coast somewhere. Tomorrow to Port Royal to take on coal and provisions. A lot of sea sickness and “throwing up” thoughout the ship. I can’t account for it, but I haven’t been sick at all – and I am now in tip top health.
“This is one of the neatest crafts: long and narrow – two masts, carries five guns – 24 lb. Brass howitzers and she has two large engines and is considered one of the fastest ships in the navy. Dried apples every day or two. It is a perfect home little home – if one can only think so.

Nov. 9, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Beaufort, NC
Day before yesterday the ‘look out’ spied a vessel which was supposed to be a blockade runner. She proved to be one of our own ships. They were looking for the blockade runner “Talahassee”.
“I suppose Edward has gone to the front an by this time next year – God protect us – we will both return home. He hopes that “the Union is restored and the old flag flying all over the courty”.

Nov. 16, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
“I can see the rebel flag flying over the fort at the entrance to Wilmington”.

Nov. 19, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
At about 7 p.m. the Captain hailed a steamer. She immediately put her lights out and scut off. We fired four rounds at her and then went after her, but lost sight of her in the dark. We got the steam up and were traveling at 17 ½ knots.
“Since I wrote you, our ship has been made a ‘flag ship’. We are on the south side of Wilmington and there are thirteen vessels in the fleet and I do not know how many on the north side.” I am starving for news. I suppose “Abe” is our next president and Fenton our (NY) governor.
The Captain has ordered us to put white tape on our collars – we are on the flag ship you know.
We can see the rebel flag flying from the fort. It may come down soon!

Nov. 22, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
” Night before last we went within two miles or three of the fort entrance. Two or three shells were thrown at us but did not hit us. Yesterday we went on sort of a reconnoiter along the coast. We had the British flag hoisted so the rebs might think us a blockade runner. We went within a ½ mile of shore. Our Captain returned a wave from the rebs.

Dec. 4, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
Realized “Abe” had been elected. Had and “oinon stew” for Thanksgiving dinner.

Dec. 6, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, In Port Beaufort, SC
” I am off my watch and am sitting up the forecastle – one of the loveliest days I ever saw”. Little boats “bam boats” come along the side of the ship with apples, cakes, break, sweet potatoes.

Dec. 13, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, In Port Beaufort, SC
page 26 – storm letter.
Dec. 18, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
“I understand that we are to carry dispatches from the flaghship to the other vessels. There are a total of seventy vessels that will be included in the engagement.

Dec. 31, 1864 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Port Royal Harbor, SC
Our captain has been fattening up a turkey on the ship for New Years. The turkey has been sea sick.. We can see Hilton Head. We are near the hotbed of the rebellion – Charleston.

Jan . 17, 1865 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Off Wilmington, NC
You will have read about the fight by the time this letter reaches you. The AD Vance with half dozen other ships have been laying along the beach to protect the landing of troops and to protect the ammunition stores.
It was a grand sight to see the troops after they had landed fall into line and march up towards the fort. The fleet kept up shelling the fort. I don’t see how the rebs stood it. At about 4 p.m. yesterday, a party of rebs made a charge out of the woods on the troops left to protect the ammunition. They charged with a yell. The troops on the beach fell into line and charged right into them. We were called to quarters and with the other gun boats, gave a few shells. It was too hot for the Johnys and they retired.
The fort surrendered night before. The Admiral’s flagship was illuminated. The sun rose this morning to shine on many dead and bleeding forms that wer no more. It has been an awful weeks work, but the old flag floats on the fort where one week ago the rebel flag flaunted defiantly.
There were two or three thousand rebel prisoners on the beach yesterday.
The wounded men and prisoners are being brought over on the transports. They hoist the wounded men up the side of the ship as they would boxes. Oh it is awful!

Jan . 19, 1865 — on board the “A.D. Vance”, Cape Fear River.
This has been a terrible blow to the rebellion. The rebs must have meant that his place should not be taken – evidenced by the small torpedo boats. The rebel cause looks hopeless. Down with the traitors, up with the starts. Three cheers for the Army and Navy – Hallaleuia.
The rebel prisoners looked like beggars, old men and little boys with dirty blankets and no two dressed alike.
I was talking with one of the engineers who was ashore in the fort and dying all around. He said a young rebel soldier only sixteen lay with both lets blow off. He sat beside him until he died. He told the engineer he was forced to go into the army. His last words were : I will never see my mother again”.

March 22, 1865. U.S. North Carolina, Brooklyn Navy Yard.
When I think of Sherman’s brave boys have gone through and what our prisoners suffer in prison, I can’t complain.
We drill every day with muskets or single sticks.

June 15, 1865. U.S. steamer Baltic, Mobile
I was ashore several times. The buildings nearest the explosion were completely demolished. I went through four forts. The guns have all been taken out. Steamers are coming an going laden with freight. The mosquitoes. They are here by the million.

July 31, 1865. U.S. steamer Morgan, Mobile
Home soon.


Memorial Day should be sacredly observed. It is the Nation’s Sabbath; a day of sweet memories and cherished
associations; and an occasion which, as the years go by, stirs anew within us stronger feelings of patriotism and brings to
every lover of his country a fuller appreciation of its true meaning and purpose. It is a noble and patriotic sentiment that
prompts us to observe this one day in the year in honor of the dead defenders of the Republic – to strew their graves
with flowers and call to mind with pride and tender emotion their self-sacrificing devotion, their unflinching courage on
the battle-field and around the guns of our ships of war, their patient endurance through all their suffering and privations,
during the long and terrible struggle in which the fate of our country hung trembling in the balance.
It is fitting that they should recall the deeds, which this day commemorates. They were distinguished above ordinary
heroism by a self-sacrifice before unknown in the annals of history. The brave men who fought our battles on land and
sea settled the questions for once and for all that this fair land of ours shall ever be a land of free men and women in fact,
as well as in name; and they also demonstrated to the world that “government by the people, for the people, shall not
perish from the earth.”
While we thus honor and revere the memories of our departed comrades, let us take from their graves an inspiration of
fidelity to duty and of loyalty to each other and to our country; and let, us “highly resolve that they shall not have died in
In “the low green tents whose curtains never outward swing” they are at rest. The silent stars keep watch over them, the
beautiful verdure of springtime is above and about them, joyous birds carol their sweetest songs, and the gentle breezes
sing their requiems over them, and loving friends and comrades with gentle hands cover their graves with choicest
flowers and speak of them in love and tenderness. They died for liberty. They died that the Nation might live.
In the performance of the solemn duties of this day let us not forget our comrades who still survive. They deserve our
sympathy, our love and assistance; as they also deserve the lasting gratitude and bountiful generosity of the government,
for they share, with their dead comrades, the glory of having saved our country from disruption and our flag from
The bitterness and animosity engendered by the way have happily almost passed away; yet we must ever remember that
victory to the Rebellion meant death to the Republic, and that the Union soldiers and sailors whose graves we decorate
with flowers and bedew with tears, with their surviving comrades, saved the Union and gave to our beloved flag a new
meaning and a grander glory.
John S. Maxwell,
Department of New York Commander
Grand Army of the Republic

The above is taken from the State of New York, Forty-First Annual Encampment
Department of New York, Grand Army of the Republic General Orders and Proceedings, dated March 22, 1907.
John S. Maxwell was the Great grandfather of Michael R. Horgan Jr., New Jersey Past Department Commander, SUVCW, 1997-99.


Veteran of Civil War and Citizen of Amsterdam Whom All Honor, Dies at Hospital in Fullness of Years—-Widely Known and Loved
Judge John S. Maxwell died 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon in the Amsterdam City hospital in the
eighty-fifth year of his age.
Judge Maxwell was the oldest lawyer in the city and also enjoyed the distinction of having been
admitted to the bar at a more advanced age than any other, for it was in middle age that he
decided to abandon business and enter the legal profession. He was one whom his fellow men
delighted to honor.
The latter part of his life was marked by four successive elections to the office of Amsterdam
City Judge, which office he still held when he died. He was three times elected Recorder of the
City of Amsterdam, District Attorney of the county, and at one time might well have been the
candidate of the Republican party for Secretary of State had he cared to press the effort further.
As a member of the G. A. R. he held every office that both the local posts and the state
organization could confer and was at one time Postmaster in Stittville (a town founded by his
All of these public positions came to him during a period of 36 years, and in all that time there
was never a question as to his honesty and ability. Scorn and suspicion, rightfully or otherwise,
were almost invariably the lot of men in public office, but such was the dignity and fine loyalty to
the highest ideals of John S. Maxwell that no ill word from any quarter was ever directed against
his life, public or private. Leaders of all political parties endorsed him, and all men approved.
A life so filled with good works, ended so gracefully in the fullness of years, must have built
something into the municipal structure of the city that will be felt when the name of
John S. Maxwell is but a dim memory.
Judge Maxwell was born in Cohoes February 4, 1845, being the second son of John Maxwell
and Elizabeth Davidson, who came to the United States from Hawick, Scotland, in 1840.
The Maxwell family moved in 1857 to Rock City, now the eighth ward of Amsterdam,
John S. Maxwell being then 12 years of age. His father entered the knit goods business in a
partnership with the late Adam Kline. The little red schoolhouse on the hill and later the
Amsterdam academy gave John S. Maxwell the fundamentals of education, and he also attended
college at Poughkeepsie, NY.
At age 19 years he enlisted in the United States Navy. After the war he worked at his father’s mill
and then entered business life on his own account.
He operated knitting mills in Amsterdam, Stittville, Oneida, St. Johnsville and Toronto, Canada.
It was while he was in Stittville that his appointment as postmaster came from President Grant.
It was in the year 1889 that Judge Maxwell decided to abandon business and study law, and on
February 4, 1892, the forty-seventh anniversary of his birth, he was admitted to the bar. The
following year he was the candidate of the Republican party for Recorder and was elected by a
majority of 550, the term being for three years.
He was re-nominated at the expiration of that term and again endorsed by the voters by an
increased majority, and there was no opposition to his election for the third term. One year
following the completion of his third term as recorder he was elected District Attorney, and upon
the completion of the three-year term he declined re-nomination.
It was during his service as Recorder and as District Attorney that Judge Maxwell demonstrated
those fine attributes of human character, kindly understanding, toleration and mercy. It was his
conception of his duty that society was to be protected by law rather than that revenge be
administered for wrongdoing. He was reluctant to punish or prosecute bitterly when he felt that
justice to all might be the better served by leniency. Those associated with him know that many a
man has been spared the shame of public disgrace and prison record, to go clean and straight
afterward. Yet his clarity of vision and sense of true justice were always with him. He could carry
on with quiet insistence to stern culmination when convinced that the facts warranted such a
It was not long after the expiration of Judge Maxwell’s term as District Attorney that the office of
City Judge was created, and to this office he was elected in the year 1916, having at one time (the
year of 1908) been prominently mentioned as the candidate for Secretary of State. No one
knows of anyone of his own party that desired to oppose him at any primary, nor did any other
party wish to enter a candidate against him.
It was in the administration of this office, perhaps, that the human understanding and sturdy
common sense of Judge Maxwell showed to better advantage than during any other part of his
career. He knew the law well enough, he understood the precedents, but he did not allow
verbiage and technicalities to blur the clean-cut outlines of right and wrong as they stood before
him. More than once he has said before contesting attorneys and witnesses, “I do not care what
the law says, In this instance it is not right,” and his decisions were rendered in accordance with
right as it was given him to see the right. He did it so gently, yet with such utter finality, that very
few of his decisions were appealed, and those most disgruntled at the moment would say after a
time, “I guess the old judge was right after all.” There must yet linger in the memory of
Amsterdam that period of housing shortage when action after action came before the court of
Judge Maxwell to evict tenants. How many may well hold this time in grateful recollection, for no
family ever went into the street by order of City Judge John S. Maxwell, let law and lawyers say
what they would.
The honors bestowed upon John S. Maxwell by the Grand Army of the Republic were as
numerous as those accorded him in political life. He was elected State Commander of the
G.A.R. about 22 years ago, the state convention being held in Saratoga. It was almost entirely
through his influence as New York State Commander that the national convention of the G.A.R.
was held in Saratoga the summer following his election. He was elected Trustee of the Soldiers’
and Sailors’ Home in Bath in 1915, and shortly after his election was made president of the
Board of Trustees. He was twice Commander of Post E. S. Young, No. 33, G. A. R., and four
times Commander of A. H. Terry Post, which disbanded in 1909. He was Senior Vice
Commander of the State Department of the G.A.R., being chosen for this office after the
expiration of his term as Commander and was also a member of the Council of Administration
for three terms and chairman of the legislative committee for three years. He was twice President
of the Tri-County Veterans’ Association and for the past four years had been Judge Advocate of
the State Department of the G. A. R.
The physical life of John S. Maxwell was in keeping with the high plane of his mental and moral
attributes. Not large in body, he was possessed of a toughness of fiber and a fine organism
which, coupled with moderation in all things, enabled him to attain advanced age with no visible
signs of approaching dissolution and to grow old so gracefully that every appearance,
During the ten weeks that he was at the hospital Judge Maxwell suffered little, or if he did he
concealed the fact with the quiet courage the strong man who does not wish others to suffer
because of his pain. He would ride about the city during such days of his hospital confinement
as the weather permitted and was alert in recognizing and greeting friends, although it could be
seen that he did this by pure power of mind. He wished to – himself completely to the very end
and he had often expressed the belief that a sudden end to any man in full power of mind and
body while at his work or pastime, was the best end and hoped such might be his. This wish was
not quite granted to him, but those who knew and loved him may rest in the solemn satisfaction
that to the last he seemed to believe that his illness was but transient and that his soul departed in
painless peace.
He was a member of Amsterdam lodge, No. 101, B. P. O. E., Artis lodge, No. 84, F. and A. M.,
the Odd Fellows and the Amsterdam Bar association.
The survivors are a son, John Brooks Maxwell of New York city, who has been Amsterdam for
the past three days, a daughter, Mrs. Frederick S. Smith of Seneca Falls, two brothers, Charles
T. Maxwell and Stuart Maxwell of Philadelphia; two sisters, Mrs. Jessie M. Bowman of
Philadelphia and Mrs. Helen M. Browne of Chicago, and two grandchildren, Edith A. Maxwell
and Janet Helen Smith.
It was while he was visiting at the home of his daughter that the final illness of Mr. Maxwell came
upon him, and she returned to Amsterdam with him and has been at the home of Mr. and Mrs.
Fred Pieer, 5 Tryon street, since.
Mayor Salmon today ordered flags on the city building at half mast in respect to the memory of
City Judge John S. Maxwell. The mayor also has issued a call for all city officials to attend the
funeral Wednesday afternoon.

MAXWELL- John S. Maxwell, City Judge, May 19, 1929 at the Amsterdam City hospital. A
prayer service will be held at the funeral house of Johnson & Lindsay Wednesday afternoon,
May 22, at 2 o’clock and at 2:30 at the Second Presbyterian church, the Rev. Frank T. Rhoad
officiating. Interment will be in the family plot at Greenhill Cemetery in Amsterdam.

EDWARD MAXWELL (Brother of John S. Maxwell)
Edward Maxwell, born: April 21, 1841, Jersey City, NJ, Died: March 19, 1915
Parents (John Maxwell and Elizabeth Davidson) came to the US from Harwick, Scotland in
1840. John Maxwell was a pioneer knitting mill operator in Amsterdam, NY. Edward graduated
from Union College in 1864. He enlisted in the Sixty-Third regiment, Irish Brigade and served
until the end of war. He participated in several engagements, including The Wilderness, and was
wounded at Petersburg. He was promoted to the rank of brevet Captain and as senior officer of
his regiment, brought it home to New York July, 1865, after Lees surrender.
He served for several terms as the adjutant of the John A. Dix. Post, G.A.R. of New York City.

Sources for all above:
Michael Horgan, Past New Jersey Dept. Commander, SUVCW and Great Grandson of John S. Maxwell.