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“Ain’t No Yankee, but a Hoosier:” A New York Street Urchin in the 36th Indiana

“Tell him I ain’t no Yankee, but a Hoosier and Quaker. I can hit a mark nine hundred yards...”

In 1861, a teenage private in the 36th Indiana Infantry penned these words for a father whose whereabouts he knew not. An English immigrant who spent part of his childhood roving the streets of New York as a “street Arab,” Edward Taylor became an adopted son of the Hoosier state when he was sent West as part of the child relocation program that came to be known as the Orphan Train. A letter he left behind, published in the Children’s Aid Society’s Annual Report for 1861, is a testament to one boy’s pride in his new identity and his high expectations for his time in Uncle Sam’s service.

Needham, George C. Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes. Boston: D. L. Guernsey, 1884. Page 98.
Illustration from Street Arabs and Gutter Snipes (1884)

By the 1850s, mass immigration and rampant urban poverty left New York City with an enormous population of vagrant children. In an attempt to address this crisis, the Children’s Aid Society of New York initiated a program to transport urban children to foster families in rural areas of the American West. The institution’s annual report for 1857 describes their preparations for the ninth such expedition, and offers a glimpse at the street boys who, like Edward Taylor, arrived at their doorstep seeking aid.

Oct. 7, 1857–Mr. Tracy will leave New York to-morrow afternoon, with another company, for homes in the West. Boys of the homeless and outcast class crowd the office, in more than usual numbers, and they all evince a desire to leave the city, and go to the better land. There are boys from Poland, from Germany, from Ireland, England, and Scotland; from the Baltic to the source of the Rhine; of course, there is great variety in their histories, and there are strange contrasts of character among them. The majority of them are orphans; and of a company of them brought to the office by the visitor, Mr. KNIGHT, many of them have known for months, some of them for years, no home but the streets; some have been at sea, some had worked on canals, others in brick-yards—all had found themselves without resources in the great city; and it is painful to hear those who have not been vitiated by this life tell their sad stories. Even the most reckless will look melancholy, and the tear starts to the eyes, as he sighs at the recollection of his orphanage and outcast condition, with a sudden revulsion of feelings. “I have no friends, no home,” are the words we hear every day in the office.

Three-fourths of those found by Mr. KNIGHT, about the docks and markets, were barefooted, and coatless; their old check shirts seemed to have been worn for months, and in some cases, no linen was visible. (1)

Illustration from the Annual Report of the Children's Aid Society (1873)

While many children found loving families, others were neglected and abused by families who took advantage of the program to employ their foster children as forced laborers. At the outset of the Civil War, Orphan Train boys numbered among the thousands of recruits who clamored to join Federal regiments. Some cited their desire to “give back” to the society that had helped pull them up from destitution, while others undoubtedly saw enlistment as an opportunity to leave abusive foster parents or a step toward financial independence. By February 1862, the Children’s Aid Society estimated that about 400 of the boys they sent West over the previous nine years were serving in the Union military. (2)

Unidentified Indiana volunteer (University of Memphis)

Edward Taylor was among the Orphan Train’s many Union volunteers. He was born in London, England, in November 1845. His mother died when he was a small child, and his father soon after moved the family across the Atlantic to New York City. After either running away or being abandoned, Taylor ended up among New York’s ragged throngs of vagrant children. He was taken in by the Children’s Aid Society, which sent him West to the care of Jesse and Alice Bales on a farm in Randolph County, Indiana. In October, 1861, a month shy of his sixteenth birthday, Taylor enlisted in Company E of the 36th Indiana Infantry. He wrote the following letter to Jared Macy, the Assistant Secretary of the Children's Aid Society, on Christmas Day, 1861, to provide him an update on his status and ask that he deliver a message to his lost father. (3)

Washington, D.C., December 25, 1861.

Much Respected Friend: I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present, and I am in hopes that these few lines will find you in the same health. Please find out where my father is, and tell him that I am well and able to kick; that I am in the army, in the Thirty-sixth Regiment, Indiana Volunteers. Tell him that I would like to see him, and that is not all, for he would like to see me. I get $13 a month and my board and clothes. I carry forty pounds besides my gun. And tell him that I can whip a thousand “Secesh,” and old Jeff Davis and all. Tell him I ain't no Yankee, but a Hoosier and Quaker. I can hit a mark nine hundred yards with my musket. So, good bye.

Send back to me some of them pretty songs, like you sent me once before, and I will learn them.

Direct your letters to the Thirty-sixth Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, Company E, Washington, D. C.

E. T. [Edward Taylor] To J. MACY, Esq. (4)

This concise letter provides fascinating insight into this moment in Edward Taylor’s life. Clearly, he embraced his newfound identity as a Hoosier, displaying a teen’s boyish sense of pride in his physical strength and burgeoning manhood, and a hope for his father’s approval mixed with a dash of resentment. Taylor’s boasts about his martial prowess strikes an odd contrast with his pride in his newfound Quaker identity. The Quakers--officially the Religious Society of Friends--have traditionally been devoted to pacifist principals. And while most Friends indeed refrained from joining the military during the Civil War, historian Jacquelyn S. Nelson found that over 1,200 Indiana Quakers fought for the Union, most of them volunteers. Quaker Meeting Records reveal that Taylor's foster father, Jesse Bales, was dropped from membership in the Springfield Monthly Meeting for marrying Alice Bales “contrary to discipline” in 1855. It is unclear what his status was by 1861, but it seems that the Bales family’s sense of Quakerness endured enough to rub off on Taylor, even if their religion’s pacifism did not. (5)

Musicians of the 36th Indiana

Taylor served with the 36th Indiana through numerous campaigns and engagements with the Army of Ohio, including the Battle of Shiloh, the advance on Corinth, and the Battle of Stones River. After being transferred to the 11th Veteran Reserve Corps, he mustered out at the end of his three year term in September 1864, and reenlisted in the 5th Ohio Cavalry in March 1865, serving through the following October. Taylor settled in Minnesota after the war, where he worked as a farmer and a carpenter, and died in Conkato, Minnesota in 1917. (6)


  1. Annual report of the Children's Aid Society. New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Thomas, 1858.

  2. Annual report of the Children's Aid Society. New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Thomas, 1862.

  3. 1860 U.S. Federal Census. 1855 New York State Census. National Park Service, The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

  4. Annual report of the Children's Aid Society. New York: Wynkoop, Hallenbeck & Thomas, 1862.

  5. Nelson, Jacqueline S. Indiana Quakers Confront the Civil War. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1991. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935.

  6. Grose, William. The Story of the Marches, Battles and Incidents of the 36th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. New Castle, IN: The Courier Company Press, 1891. Civil War Pension Index. 1900 U.S. Federal Census. 1910 U.S. Federal Census.

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