Surrey "Joe" Herring
unrecognized Civil War Veteran

Researched by Lisa Slaski

Surrey "Joe" Herring was a former slave who, after helping Federal calvalry troops in Wilmington, N.C. locate horses, then joined the union army and soon after became an orderly for Captain Henry Shaw of the 115th NY Volunteer Infantry. At the close of the war, Mr. Herring traveled back to NY, with the company, seeing no future for himself in the south. He first worked for Captain Shaw and later as a porter for the Windsor, then Alvord hotels in Gloversville. He later worked as a janitor for many of the local businesses. He was well known in the area, and was well accepted as a Civil War vet of the 115th. He attended many G.A.R. functions and late in life, both Red Cross and G.A.R. members tried to petition for Mr. Herring to receive a pension based on his service. There are many mentions of him as attending these G.A.R. reunions over the years in the local newpapers of the day. Unfortunately, his enlistment papers were apparently never filed and with Captain Shaw deceased, it was impossible for him to prove his service and thus, he was not recognized for his service during his lifetime (or since).

The following is information published in the local papers about Mr. Herring.

For further information, listen to this podcast, of an interview with Peter Betz, a former Fulton County Historian, who talks about Mr. Herring as well as another African American Civil War Veteran from the area.

Image from his obituary

Gloversville, NY, 1870 [exact date unknown]


Herring-Boman - In Gloversville, at the residence of Wm. A. Kasson, Esq., Dec. 21st, by Rev. D. W. Dayton, Surrey Herring and Margaret Boman, both of Gloversville. "No cards," but plenty of cake for the printers.

Albany Journal
Wed., Jan 3, 1884

Mr. Surrey Herring, familiarly known as "Joe" the polite and gentlemenly porter of the Windsor, started Monday forenoon with his daughter on a holiday excursion to Wilmington, N.C., the place of his nativity.

Gloversville, NY, about 12 Dec 1877 [exact date unknown]

Three children of Mr. and Mrs. Surrey Herring were baptized.

The Fulton County Republican
Johnstown, 21 Jul 1887

Surrey Herring left Monday for Wilmington, N.C., to attend the funeral of his mother, Mrs. Eliza Hall, whose death occurred Sunday, at the age of seventy-seven years.

Fulton County Republican
Johnstown, NY, about 20 Jan 1890 [exact date unknown]

Surrey Herring, the well-known and affable porter at the Windsor, will leave Wednesday for a business trip to North Carolina, his old southern home. Mr. Herring during his long connection with the Windsor has won and enjoyed the esteem of the transient guests of the house and of the people here generally, and many cordial wishes for a pleasant visit will accompany him. He will be absent about six weeks.

Fulton County Republican
Johnstown, NY, about Apr 1890 [exact date unknown]

Surrey herring, the affable porter of the Windsor, has returned from his visit to North Carolina. He has arranged to transfer his services to the Alvord house, where he will assume his duties next week.

Daily Republican
Johnstown, NY, about 13 Mar 1893 [exact date unknown]

Mrs. Surrey Herring, colored, died suddenly at her home on Cedar street, Gloversville, this morning of heart disease. Her husband was porter at the Alvord Hotel for many years, and she was well known in the city.

Daily Leader
Gloversville, 28 Aug 1894

Comrades George C. Potter and Wm. M. Harris of the 153d regiment, with their wives, Aaron Ward, J. F. Hollett and R. T. Wells of the 115th, with their wives, and F. J. Keck, Chas. I. Clark, Wm. Patrick and Surrey Herring, also of the 115th regiment, are in attendance at the regimental reunions at Round Lake.

Evening Recorder
Amsterdam, NY, Monday, 11 May 1925


Colored Veteran Went Through Civil War But Enlistment Record is Not Found.

Efforts of the Gloversville chapter, American Red Cross and individual members of the G. A. R. to secure a pension for Surrey Herring, Gloversville negro, have failed so far, according to Mrs. Arthur A. Frye, of the Red Cross chapter.

Mrs. Frye announced, however, that there will be another effort to assist Mr. Herring, who served in the Union forces during the Civil war, but of whose service there exists no record in the war department.

Herring, who is well known in Amsterdam, is advanced in years and is reaching the time when his earning power will be insufficient to support him. In view of that fact, the efforts to secure a small pension for him, have been made. At present he makes a living washing windows and doing general janitor work.

There developed, however, various peculiarities in his military records which indicate that while he actually served with the Union forces in the Civil war, he never enlisted and therefore was never an actual member of the United States army.

For this reason the war department has ruled that it cannot recommend a pension for him. The matter was taken up with Congressman Crowther, who wrote to Mrs. Frye as follows:

"Your letter in re desire to secure a pension for Surrey Herring, reached me this morning and I immediately visited the adjutant general's office in an endeavor to ascertain whether or not any record existed regarding Mr. Herring. Nothing was found.

"During the day, I have conferred with the chairman of the committee on invalid pensions as to the possibility of securing legislation by special act in behalf of Mr. Herring. The chairman tells me that many cases of a similar nature have been presented to him and that while he recognizes the merit of such cases, the fact that the claimants have no military status precludes the possibility of enacting legislation in their behalf and that as a matter of fact the committee would not even consider such cases.

"I am extremely sorry this situation prevails. However, I believe it best to tell you frankly just what the situation is. I could, of course, introduce a bill, but in view of the attitude of the members of the committee such a bill would never be taken up for consideration and therefore I do not believe in holding out any false hope."

Mrs. Frye states that she believes in the merits of the case and said that a petition would be opened at the Red Cross headquarters asking Congressman Crowther to introduce the bill.

Herring fought under the late Captain Shaw of Mayfield, in the 115th New York Infantry, after having been picked up during the Civil war in North Carolina by recruiting officers of an Ohio regiment and later transferred to the 115th New York. He was wounded in service.

The Morning Herald
Gloversville and Johnstown, NY, Thursday, 28 Aug 1930


Johh Klinkhart, of Canajoharie, Is Elected President of Association in Which Ranks Are Becoming Rapidly Depleted, But the Gatherings Are to Continue Until Last Man Is Gone

John Klinkhart, of Canajoharie, was elected president at the 50th reunion of the veterans of the 153rd and 115th Regiments, New York State Volunteers of the Civil War in Amsterdam yesterday. Only Six of the men who left Fonda for the front many years ago answered to the roll call yesterday.

Veterans present for the reunion yesterday were as follows:

John Aucock, Gloversville, Company A, 153rd;
Oscar Lockwood, Little Falls, Company D, 115th;
Surrey Herring, Gloversvllle, Company E, 115th;
C. F. Wait, Amsterdam, Company I, 115th;
C. W. Scharff, Canajoharie, Company I, 115th;
John Klinkhart, Canajoharie, Company E, 153rd;
Sylvester, Butler, Clinton, Company H, 115th.

Thomas Walker of Amsterdam, a veteran of the 148th New York volunteers, was a guest.

Other officers of the association were elected as follows; Oscar Lockhart, Little Falls, vice president; Elizabeth Bates, Schenectady, secretary-treasurer and Minnie H. Steiner, Schenectady, chaplain.

Mayor William A. Gardner delivered the address of Welcome. He congratulated the veterans upon having lived to see their work of preserving the union completed, and of having further lived to be a part of what is conceded to be the most wonderful age of all recorded history.

"I am glad to have you with us," said the mayor, "and I know I speak for the city when I say that we are all glad to have you here and hope that your stay among us will be most happy.

"We are proud of our city, and in ordinary times we are proud and glad to have our neighbors come among us and enjoy our hospitality.

"At present we are at a disadvantage. We are suffering from what is not only a depression general throughout the United states, but the world. I have faith that all will be well again. This nation has never known a crisis so great but that some man or some group of men arose who were equal to all demands. We may well hark back to that day when you men met the most serious crisis that ever confronted this nation, and by your valor and patriotism preserved liberty and union, preserved the United States, a nation that has now grown to be the wealthiest the most prosperous, the most intelligent, among all the nations of the earth," concluded the mayor.

Corporation Counsel Ralph H. Kurlbaum responded to the mayor's welcome in behalf of the veterans and members of the auxilliary.

Mrs. Catherine Shafer of Schenectady, president of the auxilliary, presented a gold piece to Comrade Scharff, retired president, and Mrs. Steiner, in behalf of the auxiliary, gave to its president, Mrs. Shafer, a gift of gold as a token of the appreciation of the members of the manner in which their president has carried on the work of the year.

Mrs. Steiner explained a work that has been going on several years, and is now about completed, namely the efforts of the auxiliary to raise money to erect a tablet or monument in Fonda, which will fittingly perpetuate the departure of the 115th and 153rd regiments. The association gave $10 towards the fund for this cause.

Morning Herald
Gloversville and Johnstown NY, Monday, 25 May 1931

part of a larger article about the Memorial Day observance

Former Slave Talks

At the close of his talk, he introduced a little old man who came to Mayfield with Captain Shaw back in 1865 - Joe Herring, of Gloversville, a former slave, and now well along in years, who gave a few remarks. In spite of his advanced age the old man spoke at some length about how during the war he was a slave, and how, leaving his old home one night, he never returned. He enlisted in the Union Army in the cavalry division, and although not taking part in any battle, could have done so if possible. At the close of the war, he came to Mayfield with Captain Shaw, where he lived for many years before going to Gloversville. He spoke feelingly of the kindness shown him in Mayfield and of the good and bad times in his life. Four times has he gone back to the scene of his childhood days, but each time he has returned to this part of the country which he likes so well, and where he found peace after the war.

The Morning Herald
Gloversville and Johnstown, NY, Friday, 29 May 1931

Only 16 Veterans Remain

Sixteen Civil War veterans are left in Gloversville to witness the Memorial Day services of 1931 when the city will pay tribute to the living and the dead veterans of all wars. Ten of the veterans left are members of the Ansel Denison Post, 17, Grand Army of the Republic.

Roll of Veterans Who Remain

The names of the living members of the post are:

Seymour Van Auken
David Mulligan
Jacob LasheJames Hummel
Andrew Sprung
William Plank
William Miller
Martin J. Hayes
George H. Swan
John Allcock

Three members of the post who died during the past year are Amos Brown, Robert King and Thomas O'Neil.

Surviving veterans known here who are not affiliated with the local post are as follows:

Samuel Clawson
Surrey Herring
George Goodfellow
Theodore Benway
James Brown
Harper Burch.

The Morning Herald
Gloversville and Johnstown, NY, Wed., 5 Apr 1933

J. Herring, 89, Civil War Vet, Taken by Death

Well Known Colored Resident was Once Orderly to Capt. Henry Shaw

Born in N. Carolina

Funeral Services Will be Held Tomorrow With Rev. J. H. Hurt Officiating

Surrey (Joe) Herring, 89, unrecognized veteran of the Civil War, and widely known colored resident passed away early yesterday morning at his home, 15 Cedar street. He had been sick but a short time. For many years he was employed as a janitor in a number of offices in the business section of the city and was a well known figure on the street.

Funeral on Thursday

The funeral will be held at the Walrath & Bushouer funeral home, Fremont street, Thursday afternoon at 2:30 and at A.M.E. Zion church where he often attended service at 3. The services will be conducted by the Rev. J. H. Hurt, pastor of the church, and interment will be in Prospect Hill cemetery.

Herring, or "Joe," as he was generally known, was the possessor of a peculiar record, for while he was unofficially acknowledged by his comrades, white and colored, as a Civil War veteran, these claims were never acknowledged by the United States Government.

Mr. Herring was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, June 11, 1844, of slave parents, owned by a planter named "Herring." As the youngster grew up his master made him house-boy on the big plantation where Surrey first saw the light of day, and in that capacity he remained until he reached young manhood and the Civil War broke out.

Once "Rented out"

Surrey was "rented out" by his master as a waiter to the North Carolina Hotel, the largest hostelry in Wilmington, while his master went to war against "those Yankees." The war waged back and forth, but Wilmington saw nothing of Northern troops until February, 1865. Then the Yanks arrived in the quiet North Carolina town and requisitioned Surrey as a guide on a foray into the nearby country for horses for the Northern cavalry.

Surrey led them about the countryside on an exciting and successful trip, the climax of which came when the detachment of Northern cavalry was hemmed in by Southern troops in a little wood and submitted to artillery shelling. One of the horses shied and Surrey was injured when the horse fell on him. He was left behind when the Yankees made a break for it and won through.

Herring made his way back to Wilmington, recovered from his wounds and enlisted with a Yankee outfit. He didn't remember its number or name. Ultimately, he attached himself to the 115th Infantry, N.Y.V., which was on its way North, and part of which came from this section. Herring became orderly to Captain Henry Shaw, of Mayfield, who is now dead. Upon Captain Shaw depended his claim for recognition as a Civil War veteran, and the captain seems not to have made out the proper papers.

Alvord House Porter

The 115th Infantry, at the end of the war, was disbanded in North Carolina, and in small detachments the men set out for their homes. Surrey decided that the North was healthier for him just then than the south and came with Captain Shaw. He worked on the latter's farm at mayfield for three years and then came to Gloversville, where for many years he was employed as porter at the old Alvord House, and hundreds of local residents who moved to Gloversville in the rush days of the '80's and early '90's will remember "Joe" as being the first person to greet them when they alighted from the train at the old F., J. & G. station then located south of West Fulton street. His was a filiar [sic] figure riding on the rear steps of the Alvord House bus in its trips about the then village and later city, for in those days the bus after delivering guests to the hotel was used as a "taxi" carrying other passengers to any destination they desired.

He married Maggie Bowman, a negress of this city, by whom he had four children, George and Charles, who are now dead; Mary, who is living and took care of her father; and Surrey, Jr., who is living in New York.

Joe was long an attendant of the A.M.E. Zion church and a member of the Southern Aid Society.

The Morning Herald
Gloversville and Johnstown, NY, 7 Apr 1933

Surrey Herring

Funeral services for Surrey Herring, an orderly during the Civil War to Colonel Shaw of Mayfield, were held yesterday afternoon at 2:30 at the Walrath & Bushouer funeral home, 51 Fremont street, and at 3 in the A.M.E. Zion church, Rev. J. H. Hurt, pastor of the church, officiated, and was assisted at the services in the church by Rev. t. A. DeWitt. The services were very largely attended. Interment was made in the family plot in Prospect Hill cemetery.

Flowers were received from relatives, friends, Leonard Court No. 22and Sacandaga Lodge 34, Knights of Pythias; the Women's Relief Corps, the Ansel Denison Post G. A. R., and the Southern Aid society. members of the Southern Aid society, of which Mr. Herring was a member, attended in a body and carried out a ritualistic service at the grave.

Remembered Years Later

Surrey "Joe" Herring has been remembered many times over the years since his death. Twenty years to the day, an article appears in the local paper restating much of what was in his original obituary. More recently, Peter Betz, former Fulton County Historian, wrote an article on Mr. Herring, which I have only seen a mention of and not had the pleasure to read. The podcast was also recorded (linked at the start of this article) in recent years. A couple other small snippets are as follows:

The Leader Republican
Gloversville, NY, Friday, 20 Jul 1939

Vignettes of Old Gloversville, by Ray A. Mowers

I suppose Joe Herring came to Gloversville with the close of the Civil War, but my first recollection of him was as porter for the old Windsor Hotel in the days of John Mason's proprietorship. Joe always rode the rear step of the Windsor Hotel bus on its twice-a-day expeditions to the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville station.

In later years, Joe was to go into business for himself - the business of helping to keep Gloversville spotless through the washing of a thousand windows and the swabbing of a hundred floors each week. Joe's daily luncheon routine never varied - a piece of apple pie and some liquid refreshment, follwed by the purchase of a package of Virginia cheroots at three for a dime.

Once, when Joe was mopping down the stairs leading to Jay French's silk thread agency on the second floor, water dripped through to the cellar stairway of Cowles & Chester (now Cowles, Brown & Co.) Eugene Brown, then head clerk, hurried out of the door to shout an admonition up the stairway. 'Gene's tone offended Joe but he said nothing until he had finished his job. Then stepping to the store door enroute to his next task, Joe called out to all who cared to hear:

The Barbed Speech

"See hyar, I don't like for to be talked to that way. You better be mo' unifo'm in you' speech."

Several years ago, Joe Herring left to join those who were his comrades during the stirring days of '61 below the Mason and Dixon line. No one ever has appeared to fill the empty niche in Gloversville's work-a-day world.


The Leader Republican
Gloversville, NY, Friday, 21 Jul 1939

Hallock Alvord Comments on Tale of Gloversville


"Concerning old Joe Herring, I am probably better informed than any other now living. Joe came North after the war with Captain Shaw of Mayfield. Captain Shaw estimated his age at 19 or 20. The Alvord House was opened in the Spring of 1867 and very soon thereafter joe came to work for my father. Joe by the way, gave me my first haircut.

The Alvord Winter bus of those days had a rack at the back for carrying trunks and a itinerant artist drew a picture of Joe on the back about two thirds life size. Joe had a hand bag in his hand labeled "U.S. Grant." Joe never worked for John Mason for he left the Alvord House after Delos Kibbe changed the name of the Mason House to the Windsor. Joe's slogan while with my father was "all aboard for the Alvord House," and after going to the Windsor, he frequently forgot himself and called out the old slogan to the delight of those hearing him.


Some notes on the family

From census records and other obituaries and newspaper articles, the family of Surrey Herring can be filled in a bit more:

Surrey Herring married Margaret Bowman on 21 Dec 1870. They lived in Gloversville, Fulton county, NY and attended the A. M. E. Zion church. Margaret died about March of 1893. Surrey later lived with his daughter, Mary until his death in 1933. They had the following children:

Mary Herring, born about Apr 1873 in Fulton county, NY; died 31 Jan 1939; never married.
Charles W. Herring, born about 1874 in Fulton county, NY; died before his father's death in 1933.
Surrey Herring, born about 1877 in NY. He died before his sister, Mary (obituary). He married Adeline Dennis and had children Ruth, Margaret, Charlotte, George, Charles and James.
George Herring (not found in census records)

In 1870, Surrey is mistakenly listed as "Sarah Hering" a black female, living and working in the Alvord hotel. He has not yet married, which is consistent with the newspaper account of his marriage in late 1870.

In 1875, the family (listed under "Sura Herring") is living in the Alvord Hotel. Accordingly, from newspaper records, etc., Surrey must have worked for Mr. Alvord, then gone to the Windsor for a time and back to the Alvord. Also, this record states that Margaret was born in Dutchess county and her brother Isaac Bowman is living with the family.

In the 1900 census record, he is listed as "Joe", but in all others by some form of Surrey. In most records, his birthplace is given as North Carolina, as well as that of his parents. In one, his father is listed as being born in "Guiana". His wife, Margaret, died before 1900 and he made his home then mostly with his daughter, Mary, who appears to have not married. It also appears that his son, Charles, also did not marry. His son Surrey married and had several children.

Surrey's grandson's obituary (that of George Herring, son of Surrey, jr.), lists two sons, Robert of Amsterdam, NY and George, jr. of Magee, Mississippi.

There are likely other descendants of Surrey through his son, Surrey, jr.

Anyone having an interest or connection with this family that would like to either add to, or correct, this record, please feel free to email me! I am not personally related to the family.


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