Thursday, February 27, 2014

Private Andrews's long road home

The opening of George Andrews's letter to his father in New Boston, N.H. Andrews was a private in the 16th N.H.
A good letter captures a moment in time. That is certainly the case with the letter 19-year-old George C. Andrews wrote to his father Issachar from New Orleans on June 22, 1863. I couldn’t help wishing for George and his family that time had stopped the moment his father read the letter.

George was one of several young men from New Boston, N.H., who joined the nine-month 16th New Hampshire Volunteers in 1862. Most, including George Andrews and his brother Calvin went into Company G as privates. They mustered in late October, trained briefly on Concord Heights and headed south in November.

The story of this regiment’s suffering in the swamps of Louisiana and its homecoming is one of the most wrenching chapters of Our War. It is titled “The cup of sorrow,” and Andrews’s letter gives a glimpse of one man's piece of it.

Here it is:

New Orleans June 22, 1863

Dear Father

I will try and write you a few lines. It is with a sad heart that I attempt to write. Poo Abner is dead. He died the fourth day of June up to Brashear City. I did not hear of his death until a day or to agow when some of the boys that was up come down and told me that he was dead. It hardly could seem posible although I was affraid that he could not live the last time I saw him, but it come pretty tough to me when I heard that he was dead. We had always been with the Regt. up to the last of May when he was taken sick. We had always been together untill then and he was kind and obligeing.

Gen. Nathaniel Banks, a former speaker of
the U.S. House and governor of
Massachusetts, was commander of the
Department of the Gulf.
It will be hard for his mother as well as for the rest of us when she comes to hear of his death. His money and things I dont know what was dun with them. There is a bunddle of cloths over to Algiers that he left there. I elieve an Over coat and dress coat and a pair of Pants. I don’t know what is best to do with them whether it is best to try and sell them for what they will fetch or try and cary them home.

I am here to New Orleans yet. I am pretty well though. I am rather weak. I dont know as I told you in my other letter what I had been sick with. In the first place I come pretty near having a high Fever and then the Chils and fever took hold of me so that I used to have them every day but I have got over them now. The last time I saw Calvin he was well and tough. He was down a few days a gow with Prisoners. The Regt. then had not gon to Port Hudson. They were within about four miles of Port Hudson guarding Genl Banks hed quarters and Amunition or what there is of the Regt that is well and that ant but about a hundred and fifty men.

Kelso is dead. He died up to Brashear and Harris Pebody is dead making five out of our town that has died.

I feell & hope that we shall be on our way home soon but I suppose we shant get started until Banks gets through up to Port Hudson.

George C. Andrews

Andrews’s buddy who died at Brashear City was Abner Lull, a New Boston private the same age as Andrews. Records indicate he died on June 5, not June 4, as Andrews reported in his letter. Kelso’s first name was William. He was older – 37. Horace (not Harris) Peabody was 24. Kelso and Peabody were also privates from New Boston.

The letter indicates that Andrews and Lull were together with the regiment through the end of May 1863. That means they were probably among the scores of men of the 16th who fell ill with malaria, dysentery and kindred diseases while garrisoning Fort Burton in a Louisiana bayou. Of the 900 men who had joined the regiment, not one was killed in battle but 300 died of disease.

Many of the sick made it home, arriving in Concord by train on Aug. 14, 1863. Some came later, collected by Good Samaritans from hospitals along the route home. The capital had to build a temporary hospital and even use city hall for  beds for some of the ill men. Even with home care, the dying continued. The regiment’s nine months up, the men mustered out on Aug. 20.

The epitaph on George Andrews's stone in
New Boston Cemetery reads: "Soldier, rest:
thy warfare is over."
George Andrews’s sense that he was on the mend once his fever and chills subsided proved false.When the regiment left New Orleans by boat and steamed up the Mississippi River, Andrews was deemed well enough to travel. But when the boat reached  Cairo, Ill., his condition had worsened, and he was left behind. A few days later, he was put on a railroad car headed east.

When Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore of New Hampshire learned that many sick and dying men from the 16th New Hampshire had been left behind on the trip from New Orleans to Concord, he sent two men to find these men and bring them home. The men were Gilmore’s son, the Rev. Joseph H. Gilmore of Penacook, N.H., and P. Brainard Cogswell, a journalist who lived in the household of the Concord abolitionist Parker Pillsbury.

Gilmore and Cogswell found 30 New Hampshire men in Worcester, Mass., all of them well enough to come home.. At Albany they visited five men in the care of a Miss Carey, a Quaker “who has abandoned the position which wealth and education assign her to become the head of a noble charity.” They also stumbled on a car-load of sick soldiers, procured omnibuses, got them all (without distinction of State) up to hospital.” Among them were George C. Andrews of New Boston and five other 16th New Hampshire soldiers.

Gilmore helped Andrews to a comfortable bed and later got him home. George's brother Calvin also made it to New Boston, apparently in good health.

On Sept. 6, 1863, George Andrews died. His family had him buried in the New Boston Cemetery with an epitaph that reads: Soldier, rest:: thy warfare is over.

[George C. Andrews's wartime diary is in the Milne collection at the University of New Hampshire.]

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