WILLIAM JAMES POTTER IN CIVIL WAR WASHINGTON

“WILLIAM JAMES POTTER IN CIVIL WAR WASHINGTON
Potter was in Washington at the beginning of the Civil War, preaching to the Unitarian congregation. He witnessed the first Battle of Bull Run. Born a Quaker, he became an ardent Abolitionist. He served the Unitarian society in New Bedford, Massachusetts. One of his parishioners was Congressman Thomas Dawes Eliot, a brother of the renowned Unitarian minister, Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot. When, in the middle of the conflict, a draft was initiated, Potter preached in support, and declared that if drafted himself he would serve, not pay a substitute or a bounty to avoid going. His sermon, The Voice of the Draft was sent to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, who insisted that Potter immediately meet him in the capital. Stanton immediately recruited him as a chaplain and immediately gave him important assignments among the troops in the capital. The sermon was published the day after Potter met Stanton and it received national circulation for its eloquent defense of the importance of accepting service. He inspected hospitals and prisons, served in a major camp, and served as an important source of information for Secretary Stanton. After his chaplaincy because he thought himself too liberal for most of the troops, he became a Sanitary Commission agent serving in various campaigns in Virginia. His observations of wartime Washington and the realities of the war are powerful. Equally important was his commitment to the welfare of the Freedmen, a commitment which lasted throughout his life.”