Dr. David Livingstone’s son dies in Confederate
Prisoner of War Camp.
Rupert Vincent, who died of "wounds" on December 5, 1864, was actually Robert Livingstone the teenage son of Dr. David Livingstone of " Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame.
The younger Livingstone claimed he was 21 when he enlisted as a substitute in the 3rd New Hampshire Infantry.
He was reported as a deserter while "on the march" near Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, on August 24, 1864. After the war his military record was corrected.
Robert Moffat Livingstone was the famous Scottish explorer, David Livingstone’s, first-born.
The eldest of six children (three boys and three girls), Robert Livingstone was born on the 9 January 1846, at Mabotsa, Bechuanaland, which is today a part of the Republic of South Africa.
His mother, Mary Moffat, was the daughter of the famous Scottish missionary, Robert Moffat, and was herself born in South Africa.
Robert Livingstone spent his very early years in Darkest Africa and showed from an early age great strength and stubbornness and of character, and was a rather determined little character.
He had his father’s tenacity of purpose and his mother’s quiet endurance. Even at the tender age of four, he had a dangerous habit of wandering too far from the wagons, in spite of constant warnings that he might be savaged by Lions or Aligators.
Robert was later sent to Scotland, where he was brought up by two aunts. Owing to his early years in Africa, having lived an unsettled life, together with the fragmentary schooling he had received, Robert’s schooling in Scotland was not an enjoyable experience.
He displayed a dislike for school, probably because his education was behind that of his fellow students.
His two aunts, caring but puritanical, did not know how to handle this headstrong boy of fifteen, sending him to various schools first in Hamilton then the Quaker School in Kendal and St Andrews, but he would not settle.
With the death of his mother, Mary, on the 27 April 1862, at Shupanga, in Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique), Robert decided, impetuously and without his father’s permission, to return to southern Africa, in a bid to be re-united with his father, and his grandparents’.
At the age of 17, Robert sailed for Cape Town, intending to meet up with his father who by this time had embarked on his famous Zambesi expedition.
However, upon arriving in Durban, Natal, Robert was forbidden, in the form of a letter from his father, from continuing further (that decision on the part of David Livingstone would prove to be fateful, indeed!).
David Livingstone loved his dear son, but like so many father’s before him, he feared his beloved boy would become a “ne’er-do-weel”.
Robert then made for Cape Town, but upon running out of money, and in strained circumstances, took leave of his native South Africa, for the very last time, and sailed for the United States of America.
Livingstone later learned that Robert had "shipped into a brig that travels between the Cape and New York.
Arriving in historical Boston, Massachusetts, He then enlisted in the Union Army in October 1863,as a substitute, using the nom de guerre, “Rupert Vincent”, as a Private in H Company, of the Third New Hampshire Regiment, of the 10th Army Corps, with the serial number 3263.
He gave his age as twenty one, although he was only seventeen at the time.
The consequences of that journey were revealed in a letter from Robert to his sister, Agnes.
He told her he was now in the Federal Army as Rupert Vincent of Company H, Third New Hampshire Regiment, 10th Army Corps.
The American Civil War was raging and when Dr Livingstone returned to London and heard about Robert, he predicted the boy would "be made manure of for those bloody fields".
On January 22, 1864, in New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States, Rupert Vincent, 21, was enlisted as a substitute for Horace D. Heath.
Substitution was common in the bloody conflict. If a man of means wanted to buy his way out of the draft, he paid for an immigrant or drifter to substitute for him.
Robert's documents show that he was conscious and sober, five feet seven inches high with a dark complexion and hazel eyes.
For "a sufficient consideration paid" Rupert Vincent had sworn before witnesses to "bear true and faithful allegiance to the United States of America UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
No-one knows why Robert joined up, but he may have seen adverts in the New York Herald offering up to 700 dollars in cash for substitutes.
In October 1864, Dr Livingstone got a letter from Robert - the last he ever received from his son.
Robert claimed he had been kidnapped, drugged and forced into enlisting.
He cryptically referred to the alias as a means to avoid “further dishonouring” the family name.
He expressed regret at having joined the Army. “I have never hurt anyone knowingly in battle,” he said, “having always fired high.”
The letter came from an army hospital where Robert was recovering from malaria.
Regimental records show that his superiors were confused over his whereabouts and while Robert lay in hospital, he was posted as a deserter.
But this was sorted out on his return to the regiment.
On his first skirmish after his return, Robert, or Private “Rupert Vincent” saw hot service, and was subsequently wounded and taken prisoner in battle at Laurel Hill or New Market Road in Virginia and taken to Salisbury.
Thus began Robert Livingstone’s incarceration in the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp, at Salisbury, in North Carolina.
The Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, began life as a cotton mill, before being turned into a prisoner-of-war camp in 1861.
Although life for a union soldier, taken prisoner and held at Salisbury, was always harsh, it was later in the war that conditions became truly unbearable. Overcrowding and strict rationing of food took its toll, and many prisoners died as a result.
It was toward the end of the war, on the 5 December 1864, at the prison hospital, that Eighteen-year-old South African-born Robert Livingstone, alias “Private Rupert Vincent”, and the son of one of history’s foremost explorers, David Livingstone, died of wounds sustained in combat.
Thus it is, that Robert Livingstone, alias Private “Rupert Vincent”, a son of one of Africa’s most renowned explorer’s, David Livingstone, and born in South Africa, ventured across the vast Atlantic ocean, and made the ultimate sacrifice, in one of the most cataclysmic wars of the 19th Century!
In letters to Dr David Livingstone, who was trying to trace the wherabouts of his son, Robert, a Lieutenant Colonel James Randlett of the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers wrote: "Vincent joined us in February 1864 as a substitute.
"On October 7, he was taken prisoner on the skirmish line at Battle of New Market Road and he is now in the hands of the enemy."
The letter then added that Private Vincent had never "alluded to being forced into the service, nor did he divulge his true name.
"He is subordinate, cheerful and a brave soldier in a fight. The records show that he has been fully tested.
"I have reason to believe, whatever his motives in entering our service, that he has learned to love our country and has no regret at pledging his life for the preservation of its Government."
But the letter posed more questions than it answered. Returning to his regiment after illness, fighting bravely and never complaining about his circumstances wasn't the behaviour of a man forced into service.
The Americans didn't take kindly to suggestions that he did. But the debate over whether Robert would be asked to serve on, or be discharged, was over before it began.
The hospital records show that Robert was admitted on November 28 and died of "wounds" on December 5.
The truth is that he almost certainly froze to death under ragged bits of blanket.
Because he was a prisoner, the Confederates would have taken all his belongings, all his clothing. He probably lay almost naked.
After his death, he would have been buried in a ditch.
On May 28, 1856, Captain James E. McCoy of the New Hampshire Volunteers prepared the final statement on yet another soldier.
He said: "Rupert Vincent, having served honestly and faithfully in the field, is now entitled a discharge by reason of death."
Robert Livingstone is likely buried in a mass grave in what is now Salisbury National Cemetery.