Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lost and found: Jeremiah Durgin's sword

Here, in part, is the breathless entry I made in my journal in Westbrook, Conn., on June 2, 2011, the morning after my wife Monique and I drove down to meet Marcy Fuller in that town:

Capt. Durgin
“Marcy Fuller is a descendant of the Durgin family of Fisherville (now Penacook, N.H.). We made contact on the internet. She wrote me that she had the Civil War letters of Jeremiah S. Durgin, his three sons and assorted family members. And does she ever! Her collection is one of the best I have seen – four notebooks of letters and several amazing photographs – not just CDV [carte-de-visite] portraits but shots from the field. One Durgin relative, named Herman Currier, was a photographer in Penacook. In addition to pictures by him there are several stereoscopic images by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, including two Gardner images of bodies at Antietam. Probably Currier collected these.

“Jeremiah Durgin served in the 7th New Hampshire, his two older sons in the 2nd and his youngest son in the 18th. I have only begun to read the letters. The very first one I read was from Clara Farnum of Concord to her cousin Abner F. Durgin in the field with the 2nd New Hampshire at Washington before First Bull Run. Clara knew Charles W. Walker, the lieutenant killed when he fell of the troop train in New Jersey. One of my early ‘days’ [chapters] is about him, but Clara will supply the personal detail and the human feeling that were missing from my account of his out-sized funeral.
The Durgin children, ca 1855: Abner, Hiram, Sarah, Scott.

“These letters are a great find, one my best ever. . . . They are mine for as long as I need them.”

In fact, Monique could not believe that Marcy Fuller had allowed me, a stranger, to drive off with such a family treasure. I kept the letters for more than a year. They informed several chapters in Our War, but the main one was the story of the Durgins themselves. This was a tragic tale of a family shattered by the war.

The engraving on the sword's guard reads: "Presented to Capt. Jeremiah
D. Durgin Co. E. 7th Reft. N.H. Vols for his service as provost marshal
at Saint Augustine, Fla,, 1862."  The sword is pictured above.
Marcy Fuller and I have stayed in touch since the book came out. I saw her early last month when she drove up to Concord for Mark Travis’s and my joint book presentation at the City Auditorium.

The other day, during an internet search, she made a remarkable find herself: Jeremiah S. Durgin’s ceremonial sword, given to him when he was provost marshal of St. Augustine, Fla., early in the war. It was a job he came to loathe, as his letters home to his wife Caroline show. That may be why he didn't bring the sword home with him from the war. But it’s a beautiful sword, and you can see all the photos of it and read more about it here.

Thanks, Marcy.

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