Thursday, January 31, 2013

A gruesome death

Two brothers from West Springfield, N.H., headed west in the late 1850s to seek their fortune in Minnesota. What drew them there is hard to identify from their letters home, but a gruesome death awaited one brother.

I learned about the brothers from Deanna Lussier, who attended one of my Our War talks. She approached after I had spoken and told me her ancestors’ letters had come down to her. She loved reading them and knew their writers had fought Indians in Minnesota but wanted to know more. Deanna graciously lent me the letters, and I looked into the story.

Little Crow led the Dakota Uprising of 1862. 
The brothers were Dexter E. and Anthony Colby Collins. Beginning in 1857, when they arrived in Minnesota, they wrote their family in West Springfield. They were hungry for news about friends and relatives in New Hampshire. Often they advised a younger brother, Joseph Henry Collins, that education was the key to a successful life. Typical was Dexter's letter to the 15-year-old Joseph in January 1863:

“You must go to school as much as you can for when you are of age & away by your self you will see the kneed of all the learning you can get. I can see where I missed by not goin to school all I could when I was at home & therefore I advise you to improve evry leisure moment in study for the future.”

By then, one Collins brother, Anthony, had been killed during the Dakota Uprising. U.S. Indian agents had broken treaties with the Sioux, taking land and causing hunger and want. Bands of Dakota Sioux under Little Crow rebelled. They terrorized white settlers in Minnesota Territory, killing, raping and kidnapping. The Third Minnesota infantry regiment, which the Collins brothers had joined, was among the units ordered to quell the uprising. Private Anthony Collins was scalped and beheaded on Sept. 23, 1862, at Wood Lake, the battle that decided the outcome of the uprising in favor of the Union troops.

Three months later the government hanged 38 Sioux together on a single scaffold. Little Crow was killed in 1863, and white settlers mutilated his body. In one Minnesota town they dragged it through the street as firecrackers exploded in the corpse’s ears. Little Crow's scalp, skull and bones became prized relics.

Deanna Lussier’s family letters do not mention Anthony’s death or say much about the Sioux. “I wish I were in the south instead of here in Indian country and then I would be in the land of white folks instead of savages,” Dexter wrote Joseph.

My correspondence with Deanna has led her to investigate the Dakota Uprising and its causes. I have provided her with a few sources, but she has gone deeper than I have.

I did discover one terrific contemporary source: the Saint Paul Daily Press of Oct. 3, 1862. The paper carried three articles about the Wood Lake battle during which Anthony Collins died. Two of them mentioned him.

The paper is available online, but because the reading will be easier, I took the trouble to transcribe the stories and copy text versions below. The first was written by a lieutenant, A.J. Ebell, who later wrote a long illustrated article about the uprising for Harper’s. The author of the second story was Stephen R. Riggs, who served as chaplain for the Minnesota troops and presided over Collins’s burial. The third account comprises dispatches from Col. Henry Hastings Sibley, who led the fight against the Sioux.

Here they are:

March of Col. Sibley from Fort Ridgley to Yellow Medicine, and Battle of Wood Lake

On Thursday and Friday the forces were all got across the Minnesota and camped Friday night, Sept. 19th, by Lone-tree lake, some five miles from the Fort. The train was again in motion early next morning. We encamped for the night opposite the Lower Agency, within sight of the ruins of the government warehouses. Rev. Mr. Williamson’s church, together with all the wooden buildings in and around the Agency, had been completely demolished. A party of scouts found the remains of Philander Prescott, the Indian interpreter, a few miles below the Agency, and having covered it with earth where it lay, stuck a slip of paper with his name on it on his grave. Next morning we resumed our march before the sun was an hour high.

Hazelwood Mission, Pastor Riggs's station, in 1860.
(Sabbath, 21) During the forenoon we passed numbers of Indian houses completely deserted. A number of us rode through Little Crow’s village and secured sundry trophies in the form of head dresses and other Indian ornaments. Little Crow’s house itself had been burned during the previous night. Near by was the camp ground of over two hundred tepees with the greater part of the poles still standing, where, evidently, the Indians had spent the first night of their retreat from the Lower Agency. The grounds were strewed with empty trunks, boxes, barrels, fruit cans and oyster kegs, the spoils from New Ulm and around – showing that they had no lack of provisions thither as to quality or kind.

As we approached Red Wood river we were somewhat apprehensive of an attack in the ravine through which the road runs, and a number of us were sent forward as scouts. We saw several Indians, and, being considerably in advance of the main body, commenced satisfying our curiosity by visiting several Indian houses. Other Day had hitched his horse to a bush a little distance off, and was in one of the houses with several others, when he had his attention drawn out by the galloping up of a loose horse that had been left by another of the party, and hastened out just in time to see an Indian riding off at full speed. He fired at him and came back greatly chagrined – his eyes flashing, and vowing to be avenged at the first opportunity.

We crossed the river and rode on to Reynolds’ house, which we found in ruins. We marched on and encamped for the night by Rice Creek, over which the Indians had taken the precaution to burn the bridge; but the pioneers soon repaired it, so that it but little impeded our march.

A few rods from the road we found the remains of George Gleason – merely his skeleton, completely dried, his skull broken quite in with a large stone, all his clothes taken away except his drawers and shirt; around him scattered we found fragments of dispatches he was carrying to the Lower Agency – Sioux receipts of Major Galbraith, private and accounts and letters. We covered him where he lay with earth. He had started from the Upper Agency about 3 P.M., August 18th, with Dr. Wakefield’s family, in a carriage, and killed, and the Doctor’s family taken hostage. [Note: Col. Sibley’s Sept. 27 list of white people retrieved from Camp Release includes “Mrs. Dr. Wakefield and two children, James and Nellie, of Yellow Medicine.”]

The next night (Monday 22nd) we encamped on the shore of Wood Lake, just this side of the Three Mile Creek, over which they had effectually burned the bridge – in sight of the Yellow Medicine. Through the day we saw numbers of Indians riding round and reconnoitering, but out of reach of our guns.

As we were at breakfast next morning, we heard and alarm that the Indians had fallen on a foraging party after wood. The Renville Rangers, under Lieut. Gorman, were sent out for their support. In a few moments the tops of surrounding knolls were covered with Indians, on horse and foot, apparently trying to circumvent our camp. The 3d regiment followed in the direction of the Renville Rangers, who, supposing that they were to be supported, pushed on near a mile in advance, but the Third having been ordered off to the left, they were nearly surrounded and scarcely effected a retreat. The artillery kept the opposite shore of the Lake clear.

Two companies of the Sixth had a skirmish on the left, and the Seventh regiment under Col. Marshall made a charge into the ravine on our right, and drove the Indians from shelter there. Other Day pushed on in front of our lines, shot three Indians, and brought back two ponies into our lines – more than squaring up his account at Red Wood river. Our men surrounded him, and escorted him with shouts into camp. He proved himself a man of indomitable courage. He went right in among the Indians, and exposed himself to fire from both sides – several of our men mistaking him for an enemy, fired at him several times.

The Indians were apparently under poor management. Little Crow is falling into disrepute, and will find his power among them greatly diminished. He was seen in the distance, on a black horse, with a spy-glass in his hand. His brother is said to have come to the opposite shore of the Lake last night and counted our tents, and making them but fifty-eight, estimated our numbers to be about three hundred. Little Crow then intended to attack us during the night, but the upper Indians are said to have prevented it, telling him he had boasted he could whip the white men, and now must meet them by open day and prove it.

About 12 o'clock the firing ceased, and there was some communication between the Indians and our lines under a flag of truce. The ambulance wagons brought in nineteen dead Indians – and no doubt numbers more might be concealed in the grass and in the creek. Several were found wounded in the water, completely submerged, except their nose and mouth. Those of the Third Regiment, Richard McElroy and Anthony C. Collins, were found with their heads cut off and scalped and their bodies most shockingly mutilated. A fine precursor for a flag of truce, one of which Joe Campbell brought in, and among other things, reported that on the 18th, when the Third regiment and the Seventh were encamped at Lone Tree lake, before the remainder of the force had crossed over from the Fort, they were seen by a party of 200 Indians on their way to attack New Ulm. They had intended to fall on the Third and Seventh regiments during the night, and cut them off but were dissuaded by a few who proposed attacking them at Red Wood Crossing, where they would have us at much better advantage. But, there seeing that reinforcements had arrived were led again to desist from attacking us.

Their intentions were to wait until we were in the ravine crossing the Medicine River, and then make a small attack in front, enough to draw our forces on, and, at the signal of the raising of a blanket, those ambushed around in the grass were to leap upon the baggage wagons and shoot the drivers and horses. So confident were they of the success of this plan, concocted by Little Crow, that they brought their wagons and women to the opposite side of the river to take care of the plunder, expecting to make a clean sweep of us. The captives and their camps are still at Red Iron’s village, 18 miles above Yellow Medicine, above which the upper Indians will not let them go, but compel them to stay there and fight us; and if to-day we had been defeated, they would all have joined in with them. But we can congratulate ourselves that we have won a complete victory over them.

Joe Campbell reports their killed as at least 30, and a large number wounded, among' whom were Mar-we-ma-nee and Blue Earth, who have since died. Little Buffalo, a chief of one of the upper tribes sent word to Col. Sibley, that if he would not exterminate the lower tribe he would.

Our dead – four in all – were buried this afternoon with the honors of war, and funeral services by Mr. Riggs, the Chaplain of the expedition.

A.J. Ebell

Letter from Rev. S.R. Riggs
Camp Wood Lake
Tuesday Sept. 23, 1862

Editors of the Press:
Stephen R. Riggs, chaplain.
By the dispatches and letters which will go from camp to-day, you will be informed of the battle of this morning. It was quite a little fight of two hours. Little Crow’s intention, as we have since learned, was to fall upon us in the night and kill us all off, but in that he was overruled, and the attack was not made until after we had finished our breakfasts. In my opinion, our men did well; and certainly we have no cause to be ashamed of the results.  This forenoon we buried three killed on the battlefield, viz: Ernest Paul, of the Renville Rangers; Richard McElroy, originally of the Minnesota Second, but now of Company I of the Third; and Anthony C. Collins, of Company A, Third Regiment . Charles Frink, of Company A or the Seventh, Capt. Cutter, was wounded fatally in the head and since died. The first three were buried in three graves, dug side by side, on a little eminence near our camp, lying in the order in which they are mentioned, commencing on the south. Charles Frink, of the Seventh, we have buried in one of the rifle pits, and the place properly marked by his company. I learn from his comrades in arms that he was a professor of religion, and has demeaned himself worthy of his profession. He was engaged to be married, but feeling it his duty to give his services to his country in the hour of it peril, he joined the army. This morning he went into the battle with a great deal of enthusiasm and fell when charging upon the enemy. May God support his father and other friends, and enable them to bear this loss calmly and with Christian fortitude.

In the battle the Indians met with a very serious repulse. We have gathered up and buried fourteen of their dead. We have taken one wounded man prisoner, who will probably die to-night. There are others dead that have not been found; some they have carried away. We are informed by flags of truce that they count about thirty missing, beside a great number wounded.

I trust this war will soon be brought to a close in some way, by punishing the guilty and rescuing the innocent.

Yours truly,
S.R. Riggs

The War with the Indians: Col. Sibley's Dispatches.
Camp Release, opposite the mouth of the Chippewa River,
Sept. 27, 1862.

Maj.-Gen. Pope:
Yesterday I came to this point with my command, having been met by several half-breeds with a flag of truce. I encamped within five hundred yards of a large camp of about one hundred and fifty lodges of friendly Indians and half-breeds, who had separated themselves from Little Crow and the miserable crew with him, and had secured from them most of the white captives, awaiting my arrival.

About 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I paid a formal visit to the camp, attended by the members of my Staff and the commanding officers of corps, with two companies of infantry as an escort.

Sibley led the expedition against the Sioux.
Leaving the latter on the outside of the line of lodges, I entered the camp, where I found that regular rifle-pits had been constructed, in anticipation of an attack by the hostile Indians. I told the interpreter to call the chiefs and head men together, for I had something to say to them. The Indians and half-breeds assembled accordingly in considerable numbers, and I proceeded to give them very briefly my views of the late proceedings, my determination that the guilty parties should be pursued and overtaken if possible, and I made a demand that all the captives should be delivered to me instantly, that I might take them to my camp.

After speeches, in which they severely condemned the war party, and denied any participation in their proceedings, and gave me assurance that they would not have dared to come and shake my hand, if their own was stained with the blood of the whites, they assembled the captive women and children, and formally delivered them up to me, to the number of ninety-one pure whites –   when taking the names of such as had been instrumental in obtaining the release of the prisoners from the hostile Indians, and telling the principal men I would hold another council with them to-day, I conducted the poor captives to my camp, where I had prepared tents for their accommodation.

There were some instances of stolidity among them, but for the most part the poor creatures, relieved of the horrible suspense in which they have been kept, and some of the younger women freed from the loathsome attentions to which they have been subjected by their brutal captors, were fairly overwhelmed with joy. I am doing the best I can for them, and will send them down Tuesday, together with a large number of half-breeds who have been also kept in restraint here. The first mentioned are pure white women and children, two or three of the latter being very small orphans, all their relations having being killed. A list of them will accompany this communication.

After the disastrous result to himself and the bands associated with him, at the battle of Wood Lake, the half-breeds report, that falling back to this point, they hastily struck their tents and commenced retreating in great terror.

I have issued an order, appointing a Military Commission, consisting of two field officers and the senior Captain of the Sixth Regiment, (Col. CROOKS, Lieut. Col. MARSHALL and Capt. GRANT,) for the examination of all the men, half-breeds, as well as Indians, in the camp near us, with instructions to sift the antecedents of each, so that if there are guilty parties among them they can be arrested and properly dealt with. I have no doubt we shall find some such in the number. I will report the result in due time. I have a wounded prisoner in my camp.

The number of half-breeds who were retained by the hostile Indians as prisoners, and now under my protection, will considerably exceed one hundred, but the exact number cannot now be given.

I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H.H. SIBLEY, Colonel Commanding.
Camp Release, near Lac Qui Parle

Sept. 28, 1862

GENERAL: I have the honor to refer to my dispatch of yesterday for a detail of my military operations in this quarter. I have apprehended sixteen Indians in the friendly camp adjoining, who are suspected of being participators in the late outrages, and I have appointed a Military Commission of five officers to try them. I inclose a copy of the order directing it. If found guilty they will be immediately executed, although I am somewhat in doubt whether my authority extends quite so far. An example is, however, imperatively necessary, and I trust you will approve the act, should it happen that some real enemies have been seized and promptly disposed of.

I have information, apparently reliable, that LITTLE CROW and his adherents are at Big Stone Lake, sixty-five miles above this, where it is supposed he will be stopped by STANDING BUFFALO's Sissiton band of Sioux, as I have held a correspondence with the Chief, who desires to remain on friendly terms with our Government.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H.H. SIBLEY, Col.-Commanding.    

Monday, January 28, 2013

A hidden gem

The statue that guards the Soldiers Memorial Building on a corner of the town common in Lebanon, N.H.   

No landmark in New Hampshire better honors the sacrifices of the state’s Civil War soldiers than the GAR Hall on a corner of Lebanon’s town square. With my longtime friend and colleague, Mark Travis, I had the privilege of visiting this hallowed hall on Saturday.

Soldiers Memorial Building, designed by a veteran. 
The occasion was the annual meeting of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers, a re-enactors’ group. Mark and I have known some members of this group for years. While writing My Brave Boys in the late ’90s, we took full advantage of their keen interest in the Fifth’s history and their authentic portrayal of its soldiers. Old friend Jim Blake, a longtime member, took the photos that accompany this post. We were all aware of what a special place we were meeting in.

The GAR – Grand Army of the Republic – was the principal Union veterans’ organization after the war. It was founded in 1866 and dissolved 90 years later, when its last member died. Its lodge halls still grace many New Hampshire towns, but none that I know matches Lebanon’s. In particular, the upstairs meeting room there seems to be just as the old veterans of the Civil War left it.

Known as the Soldiers Memorial Building, the hall was built between 1886 and 1890. A gleaming golden sentinel guards it out front. On the bottom floor are military artifacts, many in display cases. Upstairs, veteran photos cover the side walls and a roster of Lebanon men who fought in the war spans the front wall and wraps around its corners. The building has gorgeous stained-glass windows, some memorializing the soldiers.

One of the names on the roster is Ferdinand Davis, who designed the building. He was a 21-year-old Lebanon carpenter when he joined the Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers in 1861. 
Memorial window with 5th NH emblem at bottom.

Davis laid out his reasons for volunteering in a letter to his brother that September: “The pay is inducement enough for some without any other. But I think it is my duty to go. I am a simple man and can be spared better than men with families. This government must be sustained. I do not suspect my individual exertions will do it but I hope to do my part, and if every young man in the north that is capable of bearing arms would take the same stand, I think those southern traitors would soon get their due.”

Davis’s papers are at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. Fortunately for me, Alec MacGillis, a former colleague and now a staff writer at The New Republic, had a fellowship at Michigan while I was researching Our War. He graciously sent me copies of Davis’s letters and his memoir of his service. I used this material in chronicling the Seventh during the battles of Fort Wagner and Olustee.

You can tell by Davis’s descriptions of buildings and fortifications, especially Fort Wagner, that he has the eye of an architect. After the war he married a Lebanon woman, and they wound up in Pomona, Calif., where he designed many buildings and residences.

Mark Travis and I had too little time Saturday to look at everything inside the hall. We spent most of the mid-afternoon talking with the Fifth re-enactors about our books, his novel Pliney Fiske and my new history. But even though the building is seldom open, I'll jump at my next chance to explore it further.

 
Capt. Perry's death at Fredericksburg was chronicled in My Brave Boys.
In the roster on the wall, I did find the names of Davis and many other soldiers from Our War. Lebanon’s rich Civil War history is well-represented in the book. As I learned during my research, the town was the first destination for a particularly articulate squad of volunteers from Kimball Union Academy who joined a Ninth New Hampshire company in 1862. From the Seventh, Jerome B. House and Andrew Lane, Davis’s company officers from Lebanon, were mortally wounded at Fort Wagner. (Their colonel, Haldimand S. Putnam of Cornish, was killed inside the fort leading the brigade that followed the famed 54th Massachusetts into battle.) Counting soldiers from the Fifth whom Mark and I had written about in My Brave Boys, I knew something about a dozen or more men named on marble plaques on the wall.

All in all, what a memorable day among old friends inside a little-known New Hampshire gem!

Friday, January 25, 2013

How did Lincoln Republicans morph into Obama Democrats?

Then-Sen.  Barack Obama and I during a 2007 Concord Monitor interview. He was running in the primary; I was editor. 

During a busy week of talks and discussions about Our War, two people have asked a timely question: How, they wondered, did the Republicans of Lincoln morph into the Democrats of Obama?

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln
The movie Lincoln was a reminder of President Lincoln’s canny campaign in the final winter of his life to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery. Opposition to the Thirteenth Amendment came from Democrats.

A century and a half later, President Obama began his second term this past week with a stirring speech before a diverse throng. He called for an inclusive America, pushing immigration reform and specifically endorsing gay rights. His victory in November had sent a message to the opposing party that the public was on his side on these issues. The opposition: Republicans.

So how did the 1860s Republicans become the 2010s Democrats?

My initial thoughts centered on the racial politics of the mid-20th century, but I was out of my depth in trying to answer fully. So I did what I always do in such situations. I emailed my friend Michael Birkner.

Michael is an American historian at Gettysburg College. He is on sabbatical in Australia, where he recently took a break from his scholarly pursuits to take his younger daughter to the Australian Open. They saw Maria Sharapova win an early round match.

Here, slightly edited, is what he had to say about the party flip-flop:

This was not a one-step process.

In baldest terms, from the Civil War through the Progressive Era, the Republican Party was the party of government. The Democratic Party was the party of as little government as possible. It retained elements of its Jacksonian roots well into the 1950s.

Recall Democratic President Grover Cleveland’s dictum when he turned down a request from southern farmers when a drought destroyed their crops during the 1880s. They asked for seed money to replant, and this was his response: No. In vetoing a farm aid bill he said: “Though the people support the government, the government does not support the people.”

I’m not making this up. That was Democratic doctrine.

Woodrow Wilson was not the only Democrat who saw the value in a more vigorous exercise of federal authority, but he was the most prominent one to do so till FDR came along. It was really FDR who turned the Democrats into the party of government. Republican hostility to FDR’s New Deal contributed strongly to the Main Street Republicans’ distaste for federal power.

That said, moderate Republicans, most notably Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford, accepted the innovations of the Progressive Era and the New Deal, recognizing that they were popular. Their policies muted the “Keep government off our backs” theme song that you have often heard from the Republican right since the Reagan era.

Nixon talked conservative and made some conservative appointments to the Supreme Court as part of his southern strategy, but he governed essentially as a liberal – not because he was a liberal but because he was a pragmatist/opportunist who wanted to get things done.

The second piece of the story connects to race and is more complicated.

It’s an oversimplification to see the 1964 Civil Rights Act as the be-all, end-all of the “flip” of the South to the Republicans. The demise of the white Southern Democrat was a long process. Yet there is a core truth to LBJ’s lament that in signing that measure he was consigning the Democrats of the South (ultimately) to second-class status.

Historians disagree about how much the shift from Democrat to Republican allegiance in the South depended on race, how much on broader “values” issues and economics. I’d say the race argument still dominates.

In many instances there’s an evangelical overlay these days to Republicanism. But really, when you talk, for example, about “Christian schools” replacing public schools in a good part of the South since 1964, how do you disentangle this development from race?

One under-appreciated story about Republicans and civil rights connects to your astute comment about the Democrats’ “slow embrace” of the civil rights movement. If you study the civil rights measures of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1965, you will find that a higher percentage of Republicans voted for them than Democrats. That’s because of nearly complete Democratic dominance at the polls in the South up to that time.

To be sure, there were Republicans like Goldwater who, out of principle, not racism, refused to back the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and there were converts to the party like Strom Thurmond who were outright racists. But northern Republicans were consistently supportive of civil rights (e.g., Gerry Ford, Hugh Scott, Leverett Saltonstall, Jacob Javits, Cliff Case and many more). They just don’t get much if any credit for this in most stories about it.

Bottom line, race cannot be ignored as a factor in the political flip-flops you’re interested in. Dems in the 1860s were the racists, as seen in Spielberg’s Lincoln; Republicans were the champions of equal rights, up to a point.

I wouldn’t impute racist motives to contemporary politicians because I have no window into their hearts, but it is clear when you look at things like attempted voter suppression in Pennsylvania in 2012 that Republicans are amply aware that black voters are not going to be voting for them.

With rare exceptions, they’re right.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My hunt after the story

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes
The December 1862 edition of the Atlantic Monthly carried a long piece titled “My Hunt after the Captain.” The author was a Boston doctor named Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the captain he was hunting was his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the future U.S. Supreme Court justice. The younger Holmes had been shot through the neck at Antietam. His father went south to find him, and the Atlantic piece described this journey.

On Jan. 23, 1863, a month after the Holmes piece appeared and 150 years ago today, a man who identified himself as F.M.R. wrote a long letter to the Independent Democrat, a newspaper in Concord, N.H., under a title borrowed from Holmes. He called the letter “My Hunt after the Sergeant.”

The letter told how F.M.R. fretted over the fate of a comrade named Sergeant R. Twelve days after the battle of Antietam, F.M.R. received a letter from Sergeant R.’s company commander telling him that “a traitor’s bullet had pierced his lung, and though living, the chances of his recovery were small.” Some days later, F.M.R. received a letter in a “tremulous” hand from Sergeant R. himself.

F.M.R. left his regiment’s camp in Poolesville, Md., to search for the wounded sergeant. He found him recovering in a Union hospital in Frederick, Md. At the sergeant’s request, they drove together in a mule-drawn buggy to Antietam, where they toured the battlefield and found the spot where Sergeant R. was shot.

When I read “My Hunt after the Sergeant,” I knew it was a great start for a chapter in Our War. It fit my criteria perfectly. F.M.R. and Sergeant R. were New Hampshire soldiers, and theirs was a poignant human story. Their journey had a point: It showed that even weeks after the battle, soldiers realized Antietam had been a milestone in the fight for the Union.

But as good as F.M.R.’s letter was, it was only the seed of a chapter. I had my work cut out for me – and, for me, the search for the story proved to be almost as eventful as the story itself.

Freedom M. Rhodes
First, I had to identify the two soldiers. I turned to Gus Ayling’s Register. Ayling, a war veteran, later served as state adjutant general. His thick, dense Register lists every New Hampshire soldier he could identify. I was pretty sure F.M.R. was in the 14th New Hampshire regiment, which was stationed in Poolesville, Md. – the dateline on his letter. That regiment’s roster in Ayling listed only one F.M.R.: Captain Freedom M. Rhodes.

Freedom Rhodes – what a name! Too good to be true!

Even better, the last name rang a bell. I vaguely recalled that after co-authoring a book about the Fifth New Hampshire years ago, I received an email from a descendant of a soldier named Rhodes.

I typed Rhodes in the search window of my email account, and sure enough, in 2002, Fred Goodwin of Nampa, Idaho, contacted me about his ancestor in the Fifth, a soldier named Eldad Rhodes. I checked my Ayling and saw that Eldad Rhodes was a sergeant, wounded at Antietam. He was also from the same town as Freedom Rhodes – Northumberland, N.H. –   and enlisted in the same town – Lancaster.

Brothers!

I emailed Fred Goodwin hoping his address hadn’t changed. It hadn’t. Within a few days he emailed me:
Eldad Rhodes

n  Eldad’s war letters.

n  Eldad’s war diary.

n  A postwar photo of Eldad.

n  Eldad’s drawing of the lean-to near the Pry House at Antietam, built for him by a comrade to aid in his recovery.

n  A photo of the shirt Eldad was wearing when he was shot.

The diary contained several references to Eldad’s brother Freedom. All I needed now was to understand the context of the wound, gather information about other characters in the story and write it.

I came to see this research as a wonderful journey to solve the mystery of a wonderful journey. You’ll find the result, as well as more photos, beginning on page 111 of Our War.

Eldad drew this picture of himself (right) and his caretaker , Cutler Edson, seated by the lean-to Edson built at Antietam. 
   

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reviews

From William Craig's Concord Monitor review of Our War:

"No other writer could offer us Our War’s insightful recreation of this state’s battle to preserve the Union. [Mike] Pride’s sense of New Hampshire’s destiny – our present – informs his writerly gift for evoking New Hampshire’s past."

Your can read the full review here.

Three readers have left comments on the Our War Amazon page.

My doctor asked the other day if the book was available on Kindle or Nook. The answer is yes.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What I think happened

Usually when I speak about Our War, my audience knows little about the book. My purpose is to describe its content, give listeners a taste of it and answer their questions.

This weekend I’ll be speaking with a different kind of group: a book club whose members have all read the book. I look forward to this because reactions – good or bad, satisfied or critical – are what an author craves.

I plan to start our conversation by sharing background about one chapter in Our War. The chapter tells one of the most startling of the fifty stories in the book. The subject is the destruction by a mob of a southern-leaning newspaper in downtown Concord on Aug. 8, 1861.

The paper was the Democratic Standard. As I write in the book, “Its content made it seem as though the Richmond Dispatch or Charleston Mercury had opened an office in a northern capital.” To most people this was acceptable, if annoying, before the war, but once the war began, some citizens decided that the Standard’s over-the-top support of the Confederacy took on the whiff of treason.

The challenge in writing about the newspaper's demise was considerable. That is because even though Concord was a printing town with three other prominent weekly newspapers, the journalism of the day was far more subjective than journalism today. Political parties financed the newspapers, whose function was to promote the party line, even in their news stories. For the editors, no story was more political, or personal, than the destruction of a newspaper.

My principal sources for Our War were letters and diaries, but I found almost none mentioning the mob attack on the Standard. The only letters I used were written by John B. Palmer, the paper’s feisty proprietor. After the attack, his agenda was to characterize it as a breach of the ideal of free speech, but his letters also contained statements of fact that were useful in telling the story.

In the many contemporary newspaper accounts of the riot, the problem was separating out the editorial biases of the editors and reporters.

Amos Hadley was editor of the Independent Democrat, which was actually the Republican paper in town. The soldiers of the First New Hampshire had just returned to Concord, their three-month enlistment up. Some of them were involved in the riot. Hadley made his bias known when he wrote that soldiers “do not return from fighting Treason in the South, to love and respect Treason in the North.”

Years later, Hadley also wrote the main account of the riot in James O. Lyford’s history of Concord. His view of the Democratic Standard as treasonous, and his desire to uphold Concord's reputation for civility, colored this account, too.

William Butterfield edited the New Hampshire Patriot, the mainstream Democratic paper in Concord. A well-liked figure in town, he was caustic and severe in print. He walked a difficult tightrope in 1861, as did most Democrats, attempting to oppose the war while supporting the soldiers.

Butterfield played the race card often but without quite level of hatred and disgust spewed by the Democratic Standard just down the street. His posture on the mob attack was defensive. If it could happen to the Standard, might it not also happen to the Patriot?

The Patriot’s coverage of the attack had two subtexts. One, the Standard had published nothing treasonous; its destruction was a foul assault on free speech. And two, the riot had been caused not by a spontaneous uprising by soldiers and citizens but by a long-stewing plot perpetrated by leading Republicans in town – the establishment.

After reading many accounts of the riot in partisan newspapers, I concluded that Republican attempts to justify it were rationalizations and that Democratic attempts to blame leading citizens for it were interesting but unproven.

My purpose was not to join these debates but to show what happened on Concord’s Main Street on Aug. 8, 1861. Fortunately, the papers of both parties from around the state – and of Concord’s old Whig paper, The Statesman – had plenty of eyewitness accounts by journalists. In writing my chapter, I tossed out many assertions that I could not otherwise verify and wrote around facts I could not establish.

There are questions about the riot I wish I could have answered, but as my historian friend Michael Birkner likes to say, “History is what we think happened.” Maybe more firsthand accounts will emerge in time, but for now I think I got the story right.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Straight out of Dickens

Several years ago I had the privilege of interviewing the late Donald Murray, the University of New Hampshire writing guru. Don sent me a laminated, bumper-sticker-size card with his motto: “Nulla dies sine linea” – “Never a day without a line.” If it was good enough for Don Murray, it’s good enough for me.

Thus, as much as I enjoy blogging, giving talks and engaging readers about my new book, the question of what to write next is already nipping at my heels.

Sgt. (later Capt.) James H. Marshall
Recently I started scouting for a new topic at the New Hampshire Historical Society. The first thing I looked at was a collection the society recently acquired – the papers of James H. Marshall, a soldier of the 8th New Hampshire Volunteers.

It’s a big collection, more than I could read in a single morning, but I began with the journal Marshall kept as a teenager before the war. Reading it reminded me of one of the many things I love about research: the way old paper transcends time. Marshall’s journals and letters were saved because he and his descendants hoped he had something to say to the future. When a researcher picks up these papers, he or she represents that future, and the human connection is deeply satisfying.

Marshall was born in Nashua in 1840. The clear writing and thinking in his journal suggest a bright young mind. One entry is a richly detailed autobiographical essay written during the late 1850s. To the modern eye, the essay is a reminder of the hardships common to Marshall’s time: mortal illness, the loss of parents at a young age and the consequences of such conditions. Marshall could be a character out of Dickens.

His mother, Fanny, died when he was a boy, and he and his father John went to live with his grandmother, “the tenderest and most indulgent of guardians.” While working as a mill boss, John Marshall began to suffer chronic breathing problems. He and one of James’s uncles set sail for Key West and Havana looking for a healthy climate. James met his father at the train station when he returned. Six years old at the time, James had grown so much his father did not recognize him. John Marshall died of consumption a few months later.

For James's care, his father managed to leave $3,000, an enormous sum, but James’s guardian squandered both the boy’s money and his own. This may explain why James went to Milwaukee at age 14 to work for an uncle. His Grandmother Hopkins – “the only parent that I ever knew” – died the following year, and he returned to Nashua High School and started a literary society that attracted nine members. When the time came, there was no money for college. He went to Boston to learn the crockery business from another uncle.

The last pages of the journal tell of James’s adventures before the Civil War, including a long report on a fishing trip. His companion on that trip was Charlie Copp, a young Nashua bookseller who went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor with the 9th New Hampshire regiment. Charlie plays a cameo role in an Our War chapter about his brother Elbridge of the 3rd New Hampshire.

When James Marshall answered President Lincoln’s first call for troops by enlisting in the 1st New Hampshire Volunteers on April 30, 1861, he was 21 years old, 5-foot, 4½ inches tall and had blue eyes and brown hair. After the 1st served out its three months, he joined the 8th, mustered in as a sergeant and rose through the ranks to captain.

He survived the war and took up his late father’s profession, working in a mill as a supervisor. Also like his father, he died of consumption, and young – at the age of 37.

I plan to return to the New Hampshire Historical Society to read the wartime letters of James H. Marshall. The 8th New Hampshire spent much of the war in Louisiana, and I expect him to be an observant witness to its experiences.

Monday, January 14, 2013

'An evil blast full upon our noble cause'

Rev. Henry E. Parker spent June 21, 1861, tending to bloody men removed  from the battlefield at Bull Run. He was chaplain of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers, and the battle was his regiment’s first. But when he sat down to write his wife the next day, it was not the carnage of a long day’s fighting that troubled him most.

At a lunch on Wednesday, I will have the privilege of speaking to members of Parker’s church, the South Congregational Church in Concord, N.H.

Rev. Henry E, Parker
The church has a long history. Started in 1835 at the southwest corner of Main and Pleasant streets, it was rebuilt on its current site after a fire destroyed the original building in 1859. In the house that once stood where the church is now, the Marquis de Lafayette stayed during his visit to the city in 1825 and Ralph Waldo Emerson married an 18-year-old Concord girl, Ellen Louisa Tucker, in 1829.

Parker was the church’s second pastor. It was his church when Capt. Edward E. Sturtevant, New Hampshire’s first volunteer, led a group of new enlistees into the pews on the Sunday after President Lincoln’s call for the first 75,000 troops. The pastor soon enlisted himself, as chaplain to the 2nd New Hampshire.

Parker gave long sermons. Fortunately for history, he also wrote long letters, which have been preserved and are now online, courtesy of Larry Brown, his great-great-grandson. You can access them here.

Parker’s letter to his wife Mary right after Bull Run, written from Washington the day after the battle, is typically poignant and descriptive.

“I do not know that I ever had less heart for writing to you than I have tonight,” he wrote. “This defeat of our army, of which the telegraph has already informed you, is so sad an event that I hate to revert to it. To have such an evil blast full upon our noble cause, & to have our country’s interests periled thereby more than ever, smites my very soul.”

What bothered Parker more than the horrors of the battlefield was the ignominy of the Union army’s headlong retreat.

Lt. Col. Fiske, Quartermaster John Godfrey, Chaplan Parker.  
“I had read of defeats & retreats, but little did I expect to be ever in the midst of one; and I pray that I may never be again,” he wrote. “The falling soldiers, the wounded men & horses, the mangled slain are terrible but not so sad as such a retreat: the sight of a whole army disorganized and demoralized.”

Disgusted with Union reverses during General George B. McClellan's Peninsula campaign a year later, Parker resigned and went home.

As I researched Parker's service for Our War, I had some good luck. Larry Brown sent me several photos of his ancestor, including the portrait reproduced here. Then, while looking through the photo collection of the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene, I found two pictures of Frank Fiske, lieutenant colonel of the 2nd New Hampshire. Seated opposite him in one of them was a man with bushy sideburns and an erect frame – Chaplain Parker.

One reason I chose Our War as the title for my book is that the Civil War remains our war today. The men and women who fought and lived it walked the same streets we walk, and our times were shaped by theirs. This should be an easy point to make on Wednesday when I sit down to lunch with members of what is known locally as “South Church,” once the realm of Rev. Henry E. Parker.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Not so fast, pal

Chuck Hagel came to the  Concord Monitor in 2006 during his brief exploration of a run for president (Dan Habib photo).  

I still write columns from time to time for the Concord Monitor, where I ran the newsroom for 30 years. Today I have one on Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for secretary of defense.

The basis for the column is an interview our editorial board conducted with Hagel on March 21, 2006. Like many who are considering a run for president, Hagel stopped by the paper and gave us time to dig down into his views.

He soon abandoned the idea of running -- wisely, in my view. I say that not because he lacked the right stuff but because, given a tendency to think for himself and say aloud what he thought, his candidacy would have flopped in the primaries.

When we interviewed Hagel, a quotation from Joe Lelyveld's then-recent profile of Hagel in the New York Times Sunday Magazine was fresh in mind. Someone told Lelyveld that because Americans are addicted to optimism in their leaders, Hagel's sad-sack face was a liability in a presidential run.

But Hagel's face hides a keen sense of humor. He and John McCain, both mavericks, both Vietnam combat veterans, were famously friendly in the Senate, although their differences on the Iraq war had already frayed their bond. I baited Hagel during the interview, asking whether he would abandon his presidential aspirations if McCain decided to run.

Talk about getting out of the race before you've even gotten in? Even the straight-shooting Hagel was too cagey for that.

"Nebraskans can't be tricked easily," he said, "especially by fancy New Hampshirites."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A love of music, a way with words

My friend Hutch, second from right, surrounded by Prides: my late dad Charlie, me (beer in hand), my twin cousins Don and Ron.  All but Dad worked as journalists.

My favorite radio station is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is a one-man operation known in recent years as WKIT (We’re Keeping In Touch). The one man – sole proprietor, playlist impresario, equipment manager and DJ – is Alexander C. Hutchison.

Hutch is a former newspaper reporter, editor and publisher with an eclectic taste in music. He records programs rich in variety, emails the playlists to friends and sends CDs to those who ask for them.

I’ve known Hutch for 60 years and been a beneficiary of his hobby for 20. I mention him here because a recent WKIT offering focused on American wartime music. The closing number was the “Ashokan Farewell,” Jay Unger’s haunting waltz, which became the theme of Ken Burns’s The Civil War in 1990.

On WKIT the waltz served as background music to a reading of a letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou of the Second Rhode Island regiment. The Burns series made Ballou’s beautiful farewell to his wife the best known of the millions of letters written by soldiers during the war.

Ballou wrote just before the first battle of Bull Run. He was mortally wounded a few days later.

It happens that the ground where an artillery shell took his life was occupied a short time later by the Second New Hampshire regiment. In Our War I write of the Second’s experience on Matthews Hill and later on Henry Hill. This regiment and Ballou’s were in the brigade of Rhode Islander Ambrose Burnside, then a colonel, later a general.

After one talk on my book, a listener asked if I had found any letters to match Ballou’s in eloquence and emotion. I found many letters full of anguish, pain, yearning, resignation and love, but the closest to Ballou’s was one Mark Travis and I used in My Brave Boys, our book on the Fifth New Hampshire.

James Larkin
Lt. James Larkin wrote to his wife Jenny in Concord just before he went into the regiment’s first battle at Fair Oaks, Va., on June 1, 1862. The couple had two small children whom they called Bubby and Belle. When I read this letter to audiences, I can barely get through it without choking up. Read it aloud and feel its rhythms, and I think you’ll see what I mean. Here's the heart of it:

“As the contending armies seem now to be on the eve of a fierce battle, and many a brave form will be layed silent in Death, and Thousands of homes will be called to mourn for loved ones slain, it is not unreasonable to supose that I may be among the number who shall fall on that day. Still I have no fears. On the contrary I feel I shall come out safe & be restored to your loving embraces once more.

“But if it is ordered otherwise I feel that I should leave some advise and a consoling word for I am not unmindful of the greate responsibility which rests upon you in bringing up those Darling little ones. Many is the hour I have lain and thought of these things in the stillness of night before and since I left you.

“It was a greate sacrifice for me to leave you, & you thought it could not be possible I could do it, thinking so much of my children as I did. But the greate love I bore them, & you, was one of the principal reasons which led me to leave you. For in connection with the duty I felt I owed my country I felt I owed as greate a duty to my family.

“Times were hard. I thought if I could save a few hundred dollars to enjoy with my family hereafter, benefit my health, & at the same time serve my country, I should be discharging a solemn duty to my family and my country. But you will say you would prefer poverty with me, to riches without me. But I am to proud to see you and my children want for anything which I could possibly get.

“If I fall you will come in possession of ($1500) fifteen hundred dollars by my life insurance, & with what other property you have will with carefull use & investing it at good advantage enable you to suport yourself & Children & educate them respectfully. But above all things Dear Jenny be watchful of their moral training that there may never be a blot on their dear name or character. Oh with what ceaseless vigilance should you watch over little Bell that she may grow up to womanhood as spotless and pure as she is now. I can see her now, the same little pure Angle that she was the first time I pressed my lips to her sweet mouth. You may think I am partial to her, but I love darling buby just as well. But a boy can make his way through the world easier than a girl. But I would not have you be less careful with his morals.

“The little dears will never know their father, but Jenny, if such a thing is possable, after leaving this earth I shall ever be with you & them to assist your trying and lonley journy through this short life until we meet where partings will be no more.”

A few minutes before crossing the Chickahominy River for battle, Larkin signed his letter: “Good by Dear ones. Yours in Death and Life.”

Unlike Ballou, Larkin survived his first battle and many more. He rose to lieutenant colonel before serving out his three-year enlistment and returning home. In 1868 he led Concord’s first Memorial Day parade.

Alas, Larkin also suffered from his years of exposure to the elements, camp illnesses, marches and battles. An ornamental painter before the war, he could not do this work afterward. He left his job painting Concord coaches and lived much of his postwar life destitute despite a small pension.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The end of slavery: How New Hampshire voted

After seeing the movie Lincoln, I wondered about the votes of New Hampshire’s congressmen on the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The debate on the amendment drives the movie’s plot.

The chapter in Our War on the 1863 election focuses on the governor’s race in New Hampshire. That year, voters also elected representatives from three congressional districts (as opposed to two today). It elected two Republicans and a Copperhead (antiwar Democrat) to the House, and these three were still in office when the Thirteenth Amendment came to a vote on Jan. 31, 1865.

Rep. James W. Patterson[
The Senate had already passed the amendment. New Hampshire’s senators were both Republicans – John P. Hale, the abolitionist from Dover whose statue now stands in the State House yard, and Daniel Clark, a Dartmouth-educated Manchester lawyer who had been in the U.S. Senate since 1857. Clark was the Senate’s president pro tem. He and Hale both supported the amendment.

The congressmen called to vote on it were Edward H. Rollins, whose drugstore was a Republican hotspot in Concord until he was elected to the House; James W. Patterson, a Henniker native who was a math professor at Dartmouth College before winning his seat on his third try in 1863; and Daniel Marcy, the Copperhead, a self-made man and shipbuilder from Portsmouth.

There was no suspense about the votes of Rollins and Patterson, reliable antislavery men. Patterson’s brief appearance in Our War makes his position clear. In 1863 he wrote to Samuel A. Duncan, whom he had known as a scholar and tutor at Dartmouth, to cheer on Duncan’s decision to leave the 14th New Hampshire regiment to serve at the head of a black regiment.

“This war must settle the humanity & consequent rights of the black images of God,” Patterson wrote. “If military law recognizes the rights of men in black & white alike, why should not civil law when the war ceases.”

Rep. Daniel Marcy
Marcy’s decision was harder. Long a southern-sympathizing Democrat, he had even built a ship called the Frank Pierce in 1852. He had run for the House on an anti-draft, antiwar platform.

Marcy was absent when the House voted on the Thirteenth Amendment. He was one of eight Democrats who did not vote. The New Hampshire Patriot, the Democratic mouthpiece in the state, reported that he missed the vote because he was sick. In Running on the Record, an excellent history of Civil War-era politics in New Hampshire, author Lex Renda calls the Patriot’s claim of illness a lame excuse.

In 1865, Noah Brooks, a friend of Lincoln’s and a correspondent for the Daily Union in San Diego, reported: “It is not unfair to assume that these absentees were not unwilling that the amendment abolishing slavery should prevail, but were not willing to give it their active support.”

As the movie recounts, Democratic absences and abstentions were vital to the amendment’s passage. Had four more Democrats voted nay, the amendment would have come up short of a  two-thirds majority. The vote count was 119 for, 56 against. The New Hampshire Legislature ratified the amendment on July 1, 1865, shortly after its session began.  

Rep. Edward H. Rollins
It is also worth noting that Rollins, one of the Republicans who gave unanimous support to the amendment, would not have been out of place in one of the movie’s final scenes. (While Hale has his statue, Rollins has a small stone monument on the site of his house on North Main Street in Concord. It is near the street in front of the Hess gas station.)

At about 5 p.m. on April 14, 1865, Rollins showed up at the White House seeking Lincoln’s help with a petition from New Hampshire. Lincoln had already ended his workday, but after Rollins sent his card upstairs, the president came down to see what he wanted.

Lincoln then wrote this note to Edwin M. Stanton, the secretary of war, on Rollins’s behalf:

Hon. Secretary of War, please see and hear Hon. Mr. Rollins, & oblige him if you consistently can.
A. Lincoln     
April 14, 1865

Because of the assassination later that night, Rollins kept the note. Years later, Schuyler Colfax, the House speaker in 1865, told Rollins’s son that he had dined with Lincoln and walked him to his carriage for the ride to Ford’s Theatre. He said Lincoln signed no official papers after the one he signed for Rep. Rollins.

What I like about that little scrap of paper is what it reveals about Lincoln. Ever the politician, he appears to endorse the petition without really endorsing it. Like any leader with the good sense to delegate, he leaves it to Stanton to do as he wishes. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poetry break

This is totally off-subject, but here is a link to a story I wrote about Donald Hall, the Wilmot poet, for this month's New Hampshire Magazine.

Flickr has many of the pictures David Mendelsohn shot of Hall for the piece. You can view those here. That's David's portrait of Don at left.

As far as I know, Don doesn't have any poems about the Civil War, but his late wife Jane Kenyon wrote one. It is  titled "Gettysburg: July 1, 1863," and I had the privilege of reading it at a memorial service for Jane many years ago.
 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A victim of honor

Experience at soldiering sapped the na├»ve patriotism and optimism most volunteers brought to the army in 1861. Private George Bucknam is a case in point. I’m going to tell you a bit of Bucknam’s story today because I just heard good news about the family papers that Sue Bucknam and her brother Charlie allowed me to use in Our War.

Sue lives in Moultonborough and is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire. She and Charlie, who lives in Vermont, have decided to donate the papers to the archive there. It is run by Bill Ross, the capable special collections director and a Civil War scholar. UNH has a Civil War course in which students will have a chance to research George Bucknam’s papers. 

George Bucknam and his fiancee, Rosie Smith.
What these students will discover is the record of a soldier of the Fifth New Hampshire regiment who was badly wounded but lived to fight again. George and his brother Warren were printers before the war. At one time they lived at Pleasant and Spring Street in Concord. George volunteered in the late summer of 1861 and was wounded during the battle of Fair Oaks, Va., on June 1, 1862.

His captain, Edward E. Sturtevant, wrote Warren that “the ball – which I should think was a musket ball – entered his body just below the ribs and passed through his body and came out opposite where it entered.” Sturtevant initially considered the wound fatal.

The story I tell of George in Our War recounts his anger over his medical treatment. Here is what he wrote about his long stay in the tent hospital on Davids’ Island in Long Island Sound:

“Warren, this is decidedly the meanest hole that ever any body got into. . . . Sick men die here for want of proper care. . . . Why don’t they let them go home where some kind hand can sooth them in their dying hours, or is it better to keep them here for fear they will run away? . . .

“I am now writing in a tent where three have died, in my idea, just out of neglect, and the fourth one – it is hard to tell whether he will live or die – he is emaciated to a skeleton. He hopes to live till his mother can come and see him. What a pity to see her son, whom perhaps she has not seen for almost a year, just as he is departing this life, and know too that if he could have been allowed the privilege of going home when he first came here – that he could in all probability have been saved.

“Does it save the government any thing? Does it encourage soldiers to fight and suffer and undergo hardships? What kind of feelings does it inspire in the bosoms of soldiers, or men, generally speaking? Soldiers is an improper name for brave fellows that have laid down their lives for this country’s sake. Do men love to lay down their lives for the cause of liberty and then be deprived of the littlest privilege he can ask for – that of dying at home?”

And here is what George wrote of his stay in a convalescent home before returning to his regiment:

“It was enough to discourage the best natured man there ever was. . . . The men were without clothes to a great degree, some of them having nothing with them, and nothing on them but a shirt and pair of pants; and those articles were in horrible condition – literally moving about with lice – you ain’t just agoing to eat your dinner are you. . . . It is what knocks the gratification out of the boy – when he sees what he has got to come to if he does his duty and happens to be unfortunate enough to be a victim of honor.”

It was Deborah Bucknam, Charlie’s wife, who first contacted me about the letters. I read them not long before the news broke of Walter Reed hospital’s shabby care of soldiers wounded in Iraq. Some things don’t change as much as they should.

I don’t want to give away the ending to George Bucknam’s story here – I tell it in Our War – but I’m glad his descendants have decided to give his letters to a public archive. George was 25 when he enlisted. How fitting that UNH students only a little younger than he will be able to study his experience firsthand.