Sunday, February 17, 2013

Urgent! Telegram from Gettysburg!

In the final chapter of Our War I quote from the inaugural speech of New Hampshire Gov. Frederick Smyth on June 8, 1865. The Civil War was over, but its aftermath was much on the minds of Smyth and his constituents.

Smyth, a banker and railroad man whose father had been a storekeeper in Candia, N.H., owned a building with a theater in downtown Manchester. Abraham Lincoln had spoken in that theater in 1860 during a four-speech tour of New Hampshire that helped him win the Republican presidential nomination. Smyth introduced him that night as the next president of the United States -- an act of great prescience, as Lincoln held no public office and Sen. William H, Seward was favored, especially in the East, to win the Republican nomination.

Frederick Smyth had been on the Gettysburg battlefield.
Smyth had been elected on town meeting day in March to a one-year term. The day he was inaugurated, he was well aware that the Union war victory had conferred important duties on politicians. “The soldier has done his work, the statesman has now to do his,” he said. He spoke of the need to pass constitutional amendments guaranteeing former slaves both their freedom and the right to vote. He called on businesses to hire war veterans and citizens to erect monuments to the soldiers' sacrifices.

The new governor specifically mentioned the sacrifices at Gettysburg. Nearly two years after the great battle, Smyth said, the bodies of only 49 New Hampshire soldiers killed there had been found and only 27 identified. “This can be but a small part of our heroes who sleep upon that consecrated field,” Smyth said. (He was right: 102 men from three infantry regiments, the 2nd, the 5th and the 12th, were killed there on July 2, 1863.) Smyth asked legislators and citizens “to rescue from oblivion the names of those as yet unrecognized, whose memory is part of our common glory, and will be cherished as long as our race endures.”

What Smyth did not say was that he had personal experience at Gettysburg. Shortly after the battle, he rushed to the remote battlefield with several others to see to the needs of the living and the dead. The leader of this group was Larkin D. Mason, a probate judge from Tamworth assigned by then-Gov. Joseph Gilmore to look after New Hampshire's soldiers in the field.

Here is the telegram Smyth sent to Gilmore to report on the carnage (the telegram is now at the New Hampshire State Archives in the carefully organized Gilmore executive files):


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