One worry when I started working on Our War was that I would find too few women’s voices for the stories I wanted to tell. One of the first large letter collections I examined eased my mind. These were the letters of Samuel Duncan and Julia Jones at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Jones makes several cameos in the book and plays a lead in one chapter. She met Duncan, a Dartmouth College tutor, only once, and briefly, before he went off to war with the Fourteenth New Hampshire regiment. They fell in love by mail. I wrote about their romance in a chapter titled “Waiting for Cupid.” It is dated Christmas 1864, when they finally got together and realized their love was real.
Jones had no dearth of suitors. She lived with her family in East Washington, N.H. Her father Solomon was a prosperous merchant and prominent Republican. Julia was educated at the New London Literary and Scientific Institution, a forerunner of Colby-Sawyer College (that’s appears to be her 1861 graduation picture to the right). She taught school and became a principal. Early in the war, her brother Amos was an aide to General John C. Frémont, the 1856 Republican presidential nominee, and Julia knew many major political figures of the day. In the Duncan-Jones letters, the couple often joked about the famous faces in her fat photo album. Several officers had eyes for her, including Col. Edward E. Cross of the Fifth New Hampshire.
Jones was an astute observer of war news – far more so than Duncan, who tended to think each new commanding general was the great leader the Union army had been lacking. Jones shot down his Pollyanna pronouncements, preferring to wait and see how McClellan or Burnside or Hooker performed in battle before draping them with laurels.
Between the lines she also expressed frustration as a woman in being barred from political participation. On the day of the critical 1863 gubernatorial election, she looked out her window in East Washington and saw the men heading for Town Meeting to vote. “All morning long I’ve been watching them pass – the voters – traitors and loyalists, ’Publicans and sinners, for this never-to-be-forgotten Town Meeting Day,” she wrote Duncan. “Being a woman, I must quietly fold my hands & wait the issue.”
Unfortunately, I found no picture of Julia Jones for my book. This was not for want of trying. I located what I think was the Jones house in tiny, remote East Washington but could find no one to ask about her. Later, on a drizzly summer day, I toured the charming Washington Historical Society museum and asked volunteers there and in the society’s headquarters next door about a picture of her. No luck.
Now I’m kicking myself for giving up. Our War had hardly been out for a week when Thomas Talpey, a Washington resident, contacted me. Within days, he had forwarded me photographs of Jones. The keeper of the photos is Samuel and Julia Duncan’s great-great-granddaughter, Nancy Grandin of Simsbury, Conn. On the right Julia poses with her brother Amos. The ones at the top of this post appear to be 1860s CDVs.
Jones turned out to be the first of many strong women who became characters in Our War. I’m grateful to Thomas Talpey and Nancy Grandin for sharing these pictures. I wish I’d had them before the book came out, but I’m pleased now to put a face to Julia Jones’s name.