Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Emails from afar and a happy coincidence

I recently received an email from Mickey Cochran identifying himself as a reader whose ancestor had played a small role in my earlier book with Mark Travis about the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers. Here’s what Mickey wrote:

“I have been enjoying My Brave Boys. My great, great grandfather, Norman DeFord Corser, enlisted in the Fighting Fifth at the age of 15 and is the drummer boy mentioned ‘lining up for whiskey.’ He was wounded twice – once in 1862 (where a portion of his ear was shot off) and again at Cold Harbor. He finished the war following the surrender of the South at Appomattox as a sergeant. He died in Salt Lake City on 7 April, 1933. He was active in the American Party until his death.

“Would you happen to have any information about him?”

I knew no more about Corser than I could find in the basic sources. Ayling’s Register lists him as having volunteered from Bristol, New Hampshire, in September of 1861 at the legal age of 18, but it was common for teenagers to lie about their age. Mickey Cochran later gave me his birthdate as August 24, 1846, which would mean he enlisted shortly after his 15th birthday.

Corser was in Company C, commanded by James Perry of Lebanon, a captain killed near the wall on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. Later his captain was John S. Ricker, another brave officer who survived severe wounds during the Fifth’s last battle of the war, at Farmville, on April 7, 1865. Peace came at Appomattox just two days later.

Corser’s ear wound, mentioned by Mickey Cochran, occurred June 1, 1862, at Fair Oaks. Cochran’s brother, De Ford, emailed me: “I have the piece of tree with the bullet that shot his ear in it.  I was told that the family used the wedge of wood with a handle on it for a gavel for many years.”

Knowing how much the soldiers cherished battlefield relics, I love such family stories. I do wonder how Private Corser got that chunk of tree. I’m not saying it’s impossible he did – the Fifth controlled much of its segment of the battleground after the Fair Oaks fight.

I found several items about Corser’s postwar life on the web and will share a letter he wrote that was later published in a family genealogical volume.

Private Norman D. Corser of the 5th NH.
But first things first: the happy coincidence.

Between emails with Corser’s great-great-grandchildren, who live in Utah and Washington state, by the way, I checked for New Hampshire Civil War items on eBay, as I often do. Many letters, documents and soldier photos sold there bring prices beyond my means, but I do bid from time to time.

And lo and behold, a period photograph – a carte de visite, as they were known – showed up recently with a bold signature across the front. It was N. D. Corser in uniform. I bought it, and here it is.

After the war Corser lived in Fisherville (now Penacook, a village in Concord) for many years. The Penacook history lists him as a member of the Knights of Pythias and as the first officer of the day for a Grand Army of the Republic post started in 1875. He married a Fisherville woman named Emma Sessions. They started a family and went west in 1879, settling in Buena Vista, Colo. Later Corser lived in Salt Lake City, where he died in April 1933.

Here is a letter he wrote from Buena Vista to a cousin back east on Feb. 10, 1888:

Your welcome letter of Jan. 28th came duly to hand, and has been read with pleasure by us all.

We would like much to revisit old scenes, and much more to meet old friends back in the East, and have to confess to a lingering liking for old New England and its advantages; for however much we may like out here, we are not prepared to admit that there is any better spot on the continent than the old “Granite State.”

Buena Vista is beautifully located, with the finest mountain scenery I ever beheld. Why, Pike’s Peak is rather small with us, for we live in the immediate shadow of those high peaks, from any one of which we can look down upon the top of Pike’s Peak. What is called the “Collegiate Range,” Mts. Princeton, Yale, and Harvard, form the western side of our valley here, which is about 6 miles in width, being in length about 30 miles.

Our town is at the northern end, and standing here and looking south, the view I do not think can be surpassed in the world, and the climate is as fine as the view; for although the mountain tops and sides lie many feet under the snow, the ground and the streets here are bare, and we have no snow. We have had thus far this winter only two snow-falls, not more than two inches at either time, and the first sunshine generally causes the snow quickly to disappear.

You would be amused at the ludicrous efforts of the people here to secure what they call a sleigh-ride when there happens to be a light fall of snow. An old box fixed on to some barrel staves seems to be quite the thing. I hav n’t had a sleigh-ride since we left New Hampshire, almost 9 years ago.

But in spite of all that, there is no lack of snow hereabouts, if you wish to find it, and snow-slides are numerous, and fatal too often when they overwhelm some poor miner or prospector who is foolhardy enough to brave them. We have not been out of sight of snow for 7 years.

We live at an elevation of 7,500 feet. We don’t realize that we are perched up more than a thousand feet higher than the top of Mt. Washington, but such is the fact.

We have as fine mineral springs within a few miles of town as can be found anywhere. Hot enough to cook eggs, and warranted to cure all the ills that flesh is heir to.

And further than this, we have minerals enough in this county to pay the national debt, and with as fine marble as old Vermont can produce, with lime-rock scattered everywhere.

Our altitude limits us as to crops. Corn does not ripen, nor will any kind of vines do well, but oats, barley, wheat, potatoes, turnips, peas, beets and such things, grow to perfection, and such cabbages you never saw! Some of our products took the first premium at Denver last fall.

Our daughter’s name is Mary Fielding Corser. I thought that I must try and perpetuate good aunt Mary’s name; if she receives a reward for her good deeds, she will sit far above some of us, I think.

Very truly yours,
N. D. Corser.


  1. Mike,

    What a great story. The excitement of a discovery and tying it all together is pretty fulfilling.

    Dave M.

  2. Thank you so very much for sharing this picture. I'm Mickey Cochran's oldest daughter (DeFord's niece) and seeing this picture of Norman DeFord Corser brought tears to my eyes. I know these names well, and it's good to know more about them.

    1. Thanks for reading. So glad your dad and uncle shared their knowledge with me.

      FYI, Robert Grandchamp, latest biographer of Col. Edward E. Cross, Corser's first regimental commander, quotes Corser on page 90 of his book. The quote comes from a story in the Salt Lake Semi-Weekly Tribune of Aug. 12, 1898.

      You can read about the Fifth New Hampshire's experience in Robert's book as well as in My Brave Boys and Our War.