Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The yeasty early years of Edward E. Sturtevant

The place was wall-to-wall dealers of Civil War relics: muskets, banners, canteens, uniform coats, dog-tags, buttons, letters, photographs. There were more than 100 tables, and before the day was through, I had visited most of them.

My mission was narrow. I was looking for material about the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. Mark Travis and I were researching a book on this storied regiment, and I hoped to find letters and photos of soldiers who had fought in it.

Mostly the dealers shook their heads. One or two had CDVs of 5th soldiers, the little photographs the men had made of themselves in the 1860s. To a father of three only halfway through the college tuition tunnel, the prices were too high.

Then I came to a table where the dealer had stacks and stacks of soldier letters. “Any 5th New Hampshire letters?” I asked. He thought a moment and said no. As I started to move on, he said, “Wait just a second.” He turned to the large stock behind him and pulled out a pile of letters. They were prewar letters, he said, but he thought the writer might have been in the 5th.

A New Hampshire encampment of the Grand Army
 of Republic, the leading Civil War veterans'
association, was named after Edward E. Sturtevant.
One of the many rumors Mark Travis and I had heard during our hunt for material was that somewhere out there was a trunk containing the papers of Edward E. Sturtevant, who became the 5th’s major. Such rumors torment any researcher. They seldom pan out, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.

Well, sure enough, here at this show, which was in a convention center at Gettysburg, I beheld before me a large stack of Sturtevant’s letters. True, they were not wartime letters, but they gave a detailed picture of Sturtevant’s times and thoughts during the 18 years leading up to the war.

I swallowed hard and asked the price. There were nearly 80 letters, some of them six or eight pages long. A few mentioned presidents and other famous Americans, and these generally had price tags in the hundreds of dollars. The dealer removed these – there were about half a dozen – and told me I could have the rest for $10 each. Tuition or no tuition, I couldn’t say no.

The removed letters, including one in which the 23-year-old Sturtevant purposely stepped on the backs of women’s dresses at a White House reception, went to the four winds. The dealer said he would send me copies of them but never did.

I don’t dwell on what I didn’t get because what I did get was wonderful. It allowed Travis and me to flesh Sturtevant out as a character in My Brave Boys, our history of the Fifth. Twelve years later. the letters brought Sturtevant to life in the first chapter of Our War. He was New Hampshire’s first Civil War volunteer and as such represented the wild enthusiasm for saving the Union that burst forth in the North after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.

Sturtevant was born in Keene, N.H., on Aug. 7, 1826, to George and Fanny Sturtevant. At the age of 16, he moved to Concord as a printer’s apprentice. He worked as a printer in Concord and Richmond, Va., until the mid-1850s, when he became a Concord police constable.

His letters to his family in Keene describe his life in vivid detail. I thought I’d share an excerpt from one letter and most of a second one with you today. A wartime letter will be the subject of a future post.

Sturetvant wrote both of today’s letters in early 1844, when he was 17 years old. This excerpt from his Jan. 27 letter is about the enforcement of a temperance ordinance passed by Concord at town meeting (New Hampshire’s capital did not become a city till 1853). Three of the men mentioned in it were civic leaders of the time: General Joseph Low, Dudley Palmer and Franklin Pierce, the future president:

A fervent prohibition enforcer during the 1840s. Franklin
Pierce later exhibited a weakness for alcohol himself. 
“Temperance is progressing very rapidly here at the present time. Low is doing the work up in good shape. Prosecutions are taking place every day or two. On the first day of January, all dealers in intoxicating Drinks were forbid to sell any more, by prosecuting committee, consisting of Gen. Low, Frank Pierce, Dud. Palmer, and eight other of the leading men of this town.

“Blake, seller keeper, was arrested for selling Rum, tried and convicted, but was so stuffy that he would not give bonds, and consequently was carried to Hopkinton Jail, where he stayed one or two days, but got sick of the fun and excepted bonds.

“It would take a great while to name all the instances, where they have refused to obey the law, so I will only name one or two of the principal ones. Nearly all that have sold since the 1st day of January have been arrested. Not a drop can be procured for any purpose whatever – sickness or anything else.

“In one instance, when the sheriff went to arrest one of these vile grog sellers, the keeper of the rum hole and the rum-soakers fastened the door and armed themselves with clubs, and swore that the first man that opened the door they would split his brains out – but the sheriff waited about two hours and then took an axe and split the door open, and arrested him. The rum drinkers and keeper of the rum hole were all scared half to death, and all of them were full of excuses. The keeper was taken, tried, and convicted on two indictments on which he gave bonds.

“Dud. Palmer was knocked down by a man named Wm. Daymen, at his house, about nine o’clock the same night. Daymen went up to Palmer’s house, knocked on the door, Palmer came to the door and a few words passed between them after which Daymen struck Palmer and hit him, but did not knock him down. P. took the broomstick and struck D. in the face with it. The next day P. was walking down street between Gay’s hotel and Hill’s building when D. was going up street with a horse sled and D. stopped his team and got off and went up to P., a few words passed between them, D. struck at P. but did not hit him and fell down on his face, and P. threw himself down upon him but the people sepperated them before either was hurt. P. took D. up the same night, which was a week ago yesterday, and he was tried and convicted.”


And here is Sturtevant’s letter to his family on March 16, 1844, a Sunday. It shows both the youthful energy and enthusiasm of the man and the reformist excitements of the time during which he came of age.

Dear Friends:

I was very glad to receive your letter, and I suppose you have been expecting to hear from me for sometime. It having been a very busy time since I received your letter is the reason that I have not answered it. . . .

I have purchased me a pair of boots, but no coat, as yet, but I intend to in a few days, as my quarter is out in a day or two. My old coat holds out like the tooth ache, and looks very well considering its age. I intend to buy a black broadcloth frock coat in a few days. My other clothes are all in good repair.

I was under the necessity of putting on my new pantaloons only in the winter, as my old ones gave way, and my new ones was so much the warmest that I was afraid I should take cold if I shifted them too often. The old pants will do to wear a while in warmer weather. . . .

I have attended meeting several times at several different places. A few Sundays ago I attended meeting at the State’s Prison. The prisoners look neat and tidy. They have a “base viol,” which is played on by one of the prisoners, and several singers, all of which are prisoners. It sounds like the Methodist singing. Rev. John Atwood, chaplain, preached an appropriate sermon.

As I entered the guard room the first man I met was Mr. Willard Clarke of your town. I learnt from him what the “news” was, and how the folks did. I perceive that the “Keene Light Infantry” held a military ball, of which I knew nothing till I accidentally saw it noticed in the Cheshire Republican, and in your last letter. . . .

I attended, a few weeks since, the exhibition of the “Concord Literary Institution and Teachers Seminary,” under the superintendance of Mr. A. Day, jr., which was a very good one, but not equal to the one I attended, in Swanzey, when I was at home. He has the name of being a very excellent teacher – the best that has been in the institution for some time. Hon. Josiah Stevens, jr., late Secretary of State, has a school and is highly esteemed by all and pronounced as a very successful teacher.

William Miller, millennialist preacher
The Millerites [followers of William Miller, who had predicted that Christ would come again in 1843 or 1844] are in abundance here at the present time but I don’t expect they are going to be here much longer if their sayings prove true. They have bought them an old Carpenter’s shop, and hold meeting every Sunday evening – a few Sunday evenings ago I attended, and to help laughing was like trying to help dying – I had been there a few minutes when a man came up behind me and put his hand on my head and said that “God was coming, and the Devil too!!” This created some laughter, and in a little while afterwards another man got up and said that “it made God sick to the stomach to see a luke-warm professor!!!” – and the whole proceedings of the meeting were like the above – and because some few – not a very few – laughed, they were arrested, tried and convicted!

The justice was the Clerk of the Court of Common Please, Judge Badger, a great deal more of a jackass than old Elijah Parker. One person, by the name of Brown, was arrested and convicted on the following evidence: – A person by the name of Bill Wallace, swore that he spit on a man and perhaps on a woman!! This charge Brown did not deny only by saying he did not do it as he knew of but it might be possible that he did, and it might be possible that he did not, as the people crowded in to the house in a jam so thick that you could not hardly breathe. He was fined one dollar and cost, which cost him about seven dollars. This was the evidence one was convicted on. Two others were convicted on similar evidence. And I and about a dozen more were only threatened! I have no room to say any more on this subject – but I have not been near them since, nor do I ever intend to again!

In justice to the millerites I would say it was not the millerites that went in for prosecuting, but a few diabolical loafers, who thought they could make some thing by so doing!!!

Stephen Symonds Foster, the New
Hampshire-born reformer 
John A. Collins, who preaches up reform, and a very eloquent man, has been here and held meetings and I have attended several of them, and have been highly gratified. S.S. Foster was also here at the same time [Stephen Symonds Foster was a radical abolitionist, women’s rights advocate and temperance supporter born in Canterbury, N.H., in 1809]. He lectured on slavery, and denounced, in the bitterest terms, Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay. He says Martin Van Buren is the meanest man that ever draged his body across the American contenant, and Henry Clay is the vilest reptile that ever walked across the American contenant! I wish you could here him and Collins, they are amusing speakers, eloquent, witty, and interesting.

A few nights ago Engine No. 4, was got out to drown out a seller full of drunkards, but they, the drunkards, got wind of the game and cleared out. The Engine was stationed near a well of water, and the sucsion hose put into the well, where they had water enough to drowned out the whole town if they wanted it. The folks then began to work the breaks, and instantly the whole of the glass in the door was smashed out, but after working the engine awhile, and pouring in a large quantity of water they found out that the drunkards had all fled, and they had to put up their engine and go home without wetting the drunkards and keepers of the seller, but their was one consolation for the people and that was driving the drunkards home from this den of iniquity!!!

The cellar was kept by one man named Lesley, where there was a dozen or more drunkards congregated. A gang of young fellows thought they would give them a ducking and accordingly made preparation to do so about nine o’clk., in the evening. Every square of glass was broke out by the water thrown from the hose of the engine. Nothing yet has been done for prosecuting any of the persons engaged in this riotous act – and probably will not be.

I was at the fire at the State Prison and stationed myself on the roof of one of the shops a part of the time. I was also at the fire of South Boscawen (Fisherville) and went up with engine No. 2, and stayed till it was got under. There was never a set of men that worked better than did those that were there. The factory girls as well as the men helped work the engines when the men were tired. The factory was as much in flames as was Faulkner Colby’s mill, of your town, some years ago, when the engines reached the place, but the untiring efforts of the firemen, factory girls and people saved it from entire consumation.

Town Meeting came off here on Tuesday. The whole day was spent in an attempt to choose a moderator. The second day was spent in the same way. But on the third day the Whigs and Conservatives and Abolitionists united on one man, and elected him on the first ballot. Nothing but row! was the order of the day.

The Constables, and sheriffs were ordered to quell the riot, but instead of effecting any great good they made the matter worse. The constables arrested one fellow and the rowdies and others made a crowd and liberated him. I have not room to name all the instances in which all the constables and sheriffs were imposed upon by the rowdies. . . .

I write this in great haste and you must make allowance for mistake. It has been a long time since you wrote me and I feel anxious to her from you. . . .

E.E. Sturtevant

No comments:

Post a Comment