The Hume Brothers, Confederate Signal Scouts


At the outbreak of the Civil War a Virginian named Charles Hume was Clerk of the Second Auditor of the U.S. Treasury, a post he still held at the time of his death, June 25, 1863. Hume was apparently a loyal Union man, but two sons, both clerks in wholesale grocery, were not.

One son, Charles Connor Hume, was apprehended in 1862 while attempting to join the Confederate army, but succeeded in escaping from imprisonment by feigning illness. He then enlisted in the cavalry with the rank of private, and was detailed to J.E.B. Stuart’s signal unit, commanded by Capt. Frayser. On the strength of his pre-war professional acquaintance with the farmers around Washington, he was sent across the Potomac into Charles County, Maryland. While family history says that Hume was gathering information, or “bearing important dispatches”, Washington newspapers reported that his mission had been recruiting. Whatever the case, on May 20, 1863, having crossed from Virginia, or preparing to cross back, Hume and three companions were confronted by three men of the Potomac Home Brigade (recruited in western Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia), and Hume was killed.

At Christ Church, Wayside, Maryland, there is a memorial window which reads: In Memory of Major Charles C. Hume, C.S.A., son of Charles and Frances Virginia Hume: Born in Culpeper, Virginia, February 1,1842, Died May 20th, 1863, in this Vicinity in the Line of Duty, as a Brave Young Hero in the Army of Northern Virginia.


Charles Connor Hume


Hume’s younger brother Frank had also joined the Confederacy. Looking for an opportunity to take his fallen brother’s place as a signal scout, Frank got himself transferred, from the 21st Mississippi Infantry to the 1st Maryland Cavalry. In April, 1864––according to Frank Hume’s post-war memoir––Gen. Stuart ordered him to go behind Union lines and learn the destination of Burnside’s corps, which was “fitting out at Annapolis.” When Hume reached the Potomac, members of Capt. Frayser’s signal network were suspicious, and only grudgingly furnished means to cross the river. Under cover of night, Hume started across, but made poor time; when the sun rose Union soldiers on the Maryland bluff were treated to the spectacle of a lone rebel sitting in the middle of the river, paddling a coffin case with a fence paling. From his luckless situation, they concluded that Hume must be a deserter; Hume was able to land, and to make himself scarce.

Frank Hume’s post-war account is in the third person: “Unfortunately about this time information of the movements of Burnside’s Corps to join the army of Gen. Grant at Brandy Station, in the County of Culpeper, Va., came to the scout who was preparing to visit this corps at Annapolis, when this information was received.”

Bereft of a mission, Hume consoled himself by slipping into Washington to visit his mother. There had been four recent deaths in his family: his father, not yet 50, had only survived Charles Connor by a month, and two younger brothers had died in one of the epidemics to which wartime Washington was regularly prey. Mrs. Hume begged her son to stay home, but Frank asked how she would feel, seeing his name followed by the word deserter? This “was too much for her Rawlins blood to stand, and with her blessing Hume turned toward the south land.” (Mrs. Hume’s maiden name was Rawlins, and her first cousin was Gen. John A. Rawlins, chief-of-staff to Gen. Grant!)

Before leaving Washington, Hume says he had his picture taken at a portrait studio whose other customers were all dressed in blue; he does not mention gathering intelligence while in the enemy capital. Down in Charles County he found his coffin case again, but its river-going days were over: a thrifty farmer had converted it into a chicken coop. Hume crossed back to Virginia in a regular boat, and made his way to Spottsylvania, where he tells of receiving the personal compliments of Gen. Lee himself.



After the war, Hume went into the wholesale grocery business in Washington; bottles of Hume’s line of whiskies––”for the sickroom or the sideboard”––are collectible today.

Hume prospered sufficiently to afford a country house in Alexandria, where the voters twice elected him to the Virginia House of Delegates. In all probability it was Frank Hume who purchased the memorial window honoring his brother Charles.




Post Script


Confirmation that Charles Connor Hume held the rank of major does not appear in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, which only says: “Mr. Charles Hume, signal officer of J. E. B. Stuart”.  (Series 1, vol. 25, pt. II, p.730).

Historian Dave Gaddy (to whom I am indebted for information and advice) has explained that it was not unusual for a detailed private to be spoken of as a “signal officer” without actually holding an officer’s rank. Apparently Hume’s family did not know this, and simply guessed his rank.

A grain of salt is also indicated in regard to Frank Hume’s amusing war memoir. If Frank Hume really was on a mission from Stuart, why did Capt. Frayser’s people at the river––whose business it should have been to give him every assistance––instead treat him with suspicion?



Homestead Old Rye Whiskey, Frank Hume, Washington D.C.


Notes and Sources


1850 census of the District of Columbia (p.136): J. R. F. Hume, age 7, Charles C. Hume, age 8;

1860 census (3rd ward of Washington City, p.773): J. Frank Hume, age 18


Evening Star, May 28, and June 3, 26, 1863

Chronicle, May 29, 1863

Intelligencer, May 29, 1863


National Cyclopedia of American Biography, v.38, p.231

Allen B. Slauson, History of the City of Washington, Its Men and Institutions, 1903, pp.258-259.


Frank Hume, though not a Marylander, is the J. R. F. Hume listed in Hartzler’s Marylanders in the Confederacy.


The war experiences of Charles Connor and Frank Hume are distilled from a much longer version, given by Frank Hume to Francis C. Hume, of Galveston, Texas, and passed on to John Robert Hume, the author of the History of the Hume Family (Hume Genealogical Association, St. Louis, Mo., 1903), which is also the source of the photographs.

Shorter versions appear in William Everett Brockman, History of the Hume, Kennedy and Brockman Families, Washington, DC, 1916; and Early American History, Hume and Allied Families, Minneapolis, Minn., 1926.





 Carlton Fletcher

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