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Island History

Zephaniah Spalding’s Civil War exploits

Zephaniah Spalding (1837-1927), owner of Kauai’s Makee Sugar Co. from 1879 to 1916, enlisted in the 7th New York Regiment in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War and within 40 days obtained a commission as a major with the 27th Ohio. By the end of the war, he’d commanded the 27th with distinction as a lieutenant-colonel.

The 7th New York was one of the first units to reach Washington, where one section was quartered in the Senate chamber and the other in the House, with soldiers going out to hotels and restaurants for meals. Later, with the 27th Ohio, Spalding was assigned to convey 5,000 Confederate prisoners of war north and at one point came across an onlooker who shouted, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”

Spalding warned him by saying, “See here, my man, you’re going to get into trouble if you talk like that!” Unfazed, the man cried out, “Hurrah, hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Whereupon Spalding ordered a sergeant standing by to “Take that man in hand and put him in with the rest of the Rebs; that’s where he belongs!”

Yet Spalding was not without sentiment. He once saw a sentry asleep at his post — an offense punishable by death — but did not arrest him. Instead, he took the man’s rifle and moved it a few feet away. If the man awoke before his guard came to inspect, he’d have a chance to recover his rifle. Next morning, Spalding looked the soldier up and said, “So you didn’t get arrested last night!” He then proceeded to give him a stiff lecture, but from then on the soldier performed exemplary.

The 27th Ohio fought a number of engagements and mustered out in July of 1865.

Two years later, Spalding first arrived in Hawai‘i.


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