John Wolcott Phelps (1813-1885) was born in Guilford, Vermont and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1836. On May 2, 1861, Phelps was appointed Colonel of the 1st Vermont Infantry and was mustered into U.S. service on May 8. He was promoted to brigadier general on May 27, 1861.
General Phelps was stationed at Camp Parapet in Carrollton, seven miles from New Orleans. Many fugitive slaves arrived at the camp seeking refuge. General Phelps organized the black men of military age into companies. He then formally asked his commanding officer, General Butler, for arms for the blacks. General Phelps thought he could organize three regiments of Africans to help defend his camp. General Butler ordered Phelps to put the Negros to work cutting down trees around the camp, and instead of furnishing guns, ordered his quartermaster to send axes and tents for the fugitive slaves. General Phelps was unwilling to employ the Africans as mere laborers and offered his resignation on August 21, 1862. General Butler refused to accept it. Later that August, General Phelps returned his commission to President Abraham Lincoln.
Phelps was the candidate for the American Party/Anti-Masonic Party for president in 1880.