Friday, June 27, 2014

Occupying Richmond (part three)

This drawing from the April 22, 1865, cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper is fanciful. Capt. George A. Bruce
of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteers requisitioned the carriage Lincoln rode in. In his account, excerpted here,
he wrote that it was not an open barouche and that the streets were empty when Lincoln rode through Richmond.   
Capt. George A. Bruce of the 13th New Hampshire rode across the bridge from Rockett’s Landing into Richmond proper beside his division commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Devens. “The feeling of gratitude in the breasts of the freedmen” overwhelmed them. Former slaves gave them “such a welcome as king or conqueror never knew.” Devens’s eyes filled with tears and his voice quavered as he said to Bruce: “This is a great sight for us to behold – the deliverance of a race.”

Postwar photo of George A. Bruce
When the column reached Main Street, all bands were called to the front, and the men paraded to “Yankee Doodle” and “Rally round the Flag.” The refrain “Down with the traitor and up with the stars” stirred every Union heart. Heading toward Capitol Square they marched to “Battle Cry of Freedom.”

On Capitol Street, Devens’s brigade moved back to the front and stacked arms. “Sweeter music never reached the human ear than the rattling of those Union muskets on the pavements of Richmond as they dropped upon the ground,” Bruce wrote.

For all the thrill of triumph, the troops had marched into a calamity. Residents fled their burning homes and carried whatever they could to the square. Black and white men, women and children of all ages crowded together with their sofas, carpets and beds, their toys and mirrors, pots and pans strewn around them. The sick lay on makeshift beds.

The fire seemed to strengthen the wind, and wind carried cinders from one rooftop to the next. It was “blowing like a hurricane,” Bruce wrote. The heat and smoke made it hard to breathe. Above the fury on the Capitol lawn stood George Washington on horseback. The city had dedicated the majestic sculpture by Thomas Crawford three years before Virginia seceded from the Union. As Bruce watched, firebrands – burning chunks of wood – thumped against it.

Anarchy ruled the city. No one organized an effort to put out the fire. Mobs fought for food wherever they could find it. Shoulder to shoulder with white people, freed slaves joined in, eager to feed themselves and test their liberty. Their doors flung open, convicts walked out of jail and prison. Looters first raided the standing buildings nearest the fire and moved away as the flames approached.

Brig. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, commander of Bruce’s division, set up inside the Capitol. Brig. Gen. George F. Shepley, who had been the first colonel of the 12th Maine Volunteers, was appointed military governor. Devens took command of the troops in the city.

Edward H. Ripley (1862 photo)
But the man charged with restoring order in Richmond was a 25-year-old brevet brigadier general from Vermont named Edward H. Ripley. “No one better fitted for such an important and delicate task could have been found,” wrote Bruce. He described Ripley as “a scholar, a gentleman in the true sense of the word, and a soldier of much experience and proved courage. Tall, possessed of a fine figure and an open and attractive countenance, with an eye that beamed with kindness and inspired confidence, he possessed a maturity of judgment beyond his years.”

The Union men worked as a team. Soldiers gathered all the fire engines they could find and fought the fire. They organized a police force and posted sentinels on every street. By noon, printers from the ranks were producing circulars announcing temporary rules to meet the crisis. Only soldiers needed to protect the public and property were allowed inside city limits.

By nightfall the fires were dying out. Because the streetlights were not lit, the stars shone bright. Capt. Bruce walked alone for hours through “that proud but conquered capital, past the luxurious abodes of wealth then knowing the first pangs of hunger, past doors where had proudly entered, and as proudly departed, great military heroes, the tread of whose armies had made the continent to tremble and filled the world with their fame, past homes but yesterday tenanted by the rulers of an empire, now fleeing to escape the threatened punishment of their acts.” He walked “through narrow lanes and filthy alleys where dwelt the sons of toil upon whose humble roofs the calamities of the war had fallen with a double stroke, consigning fathers and sons, with all the savagery of an unpitying fate, to their untimely graves.”

The next day, April 4, at about 3 p.m., Bruce was resting on the steps of the governor’s mansion. The wife and daughter of Gov. William “Extra Billy” Smith were upstairs with a female friend whom the advance of the Union army had trapped in Richmond. Shouting in the streets drew nearer and nearer. Smith’s daughter came to the window and asked Bruce what was going on. He went to find out.

On the other side of the house he saw President Lincoln in the road with his son Tad, sailors guarding them on all sides. “The uproar was caused by thousands of freedmen who thronged about and followed their emancipator,” wrote Bruce.

When he told Miss Smith what he had seen, she disappeared from the window without a word. A note from Devens at Jefferson Davis’s house asked him to bring a carriage and come meet Lincoln, who was holding an informal reception. Afterward Lincoln, Tad, Devens and Admiral David Porter entered the carriage and rode off with 25 officers galloping along. The streets were empty in town, but a quarter mile out carriages and hacks had gathered to see the casket of Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill placed in a hearse. Hill had been killed at Petersburg.

The Crawford statue of George Washington. in Richmond's Capitol Square 
Lincoln’s carriage also stopped in Capitol Square to see Crawford’s statue. The sculptor has Washington facing west and pointing a baton in that direction. Lincoln gazed at the statue and said, “Washington is looking at me and pointing to Jeff Davis.” On the way to Porter’s ship he stopped again to look upon the ruins of Richmond.

From Bruce’s perspective, Richmond changed utterly the moment it ceased to be the capital of the Confederacy. Men in rebel uniforms no longer walked the streets. In Libby Prison and Castle Thunder, Union soldiers jailed the 2,000 rebels who did not retreat with their army. Visitors “poured into Richmond to see something of war now that it was ended.” Bruce calculated there were enough members of the U.S. Congress to hold a session in the former Confederate capitol.

Vice President Andrew Johnson: big talk, no action
Bruce was assigned to record the proceedings of criminal trials. A commission was trying a man for murder in the Senate chamber one day when Vice President Andrew Johnson and former senator Preston King of New York walked in. The court recessed to greet them.

Johnson sat beside Bruce and began to rail against the men who had started the rebellion. What he most feared, he said, was the tender heart of President Lincoln. “If I was president, I would order Davis, Lee, Longstreet and all the most prominent leaders before a military commission, and, when convicted of treason, they should be hung,” he said, pounding the desk with his fist.  

“Nine days later he was president of the United States,” Bruce observed, “and not one of them was even tried.”

News of Lee’s surrender reached Richmond on April 10. Bruce applauded the restraint of northern leaders – Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Sen. Charles Sumner, Lincoln – in limiting the celebration, lest they offend former Confederates, now fellow citizens again. “The spirit of Lincoln, ‘With malice towards none, with charity for all,’ has gradually won over all feelings of enmity and distrust, and become national,” Bruce wrote.

Two months passed before the day Bruce had been longing for. “Never can I forget that pleasant morning in June when, in obedience to orders from the War Department, in company with three New Hampshire regiments, I embarked on board a steamer at Richmond for our homeward-bound voyage to Boston. . . . We sailed down Virginia’s imperial river to the ocean, and saw for the last time her blue hills fade away in the distance. I began to experience that strange sensation of awe and uncertainty that comes over one as he stands on that mysterious borderland between one sharply contrasted mode of life and another.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Taking Richmond (part two)

Contemporary colorized engraving of the burning of Richmond. The fires began as an effort by troops under Lt. Gen.
Richard S. Ewell to burn the city's tobacco, cotton and food  to keep them from the Union army. Residents enraged
by the burning of the food rioted and looted. In the end Ewell's men could control neither the mob nor the fires.
[Part one of this account is here]

Well before dawn on April 3, 1865, and before great fires lit the sky at the horizon, Capt. George A. Bruce of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteers noticed the silence. He had been on watch all night, but this was no routine shift. Rebel deserters coming into the Union camp had reported that Robert E. Lee’s army was retreating, opening Petersburg and Richmond to capture. 

Bruce was in charge of the sentinels who stood guard at the front line beside their campfires. All had heard news, or at least rumors, of Lee’s withdrawal. “Every soldier was standing, with musket leaning against the ground, peering into the gloom, with every faculty strained to catch some note in confirmation of the glad tidings,” Bruce wrote.

Occasionally he heard the baying of a dog in the distance, but there was no other sound.

Soon the sky above Richmond caught the garish light of the flames below. “The whole northern circle of the heavens” glowed, Bruce wrote, and then another line of fires appeared above the James River.“While we were standing almost speechless, wondering at the scene, just to our left a huge volume of smoke like an illuminated balloon shot high into the air, followed by an explosion that shook the earth under our feet. The echoes rumbled heavily along the banks of the river and then died away in the distance.”

This was the explosion of the rebel ironclad Richmond – the first of many explosions that destroyed the Confederates’ James River fleet.

Bruce’s division commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Devens, had given him authority to act if the need arose. And now it had, it seemed to Bruce. He ordered the pickets forward, and no opposing picket line rose up to meet them.

Bruce and Cpl. George Duncan of the 9th Vermont rode through. Bruce stopped a deserting Confederate soldier and ordered him to guide them to the rebel entrenchments. They passed through three sturdy lines of obstructions with buried torpedoes between them and then reached long, parallel rows of empty tents. Bruce retraced his path and led his men forward. He lost one man, a Vermonter who strayed from the march route and stepped on a torpedo. Beyond the rebel tents Bruce re-formed his skirmishers into a line.

As the day broke, Bruce secured Confederate forts and batteries, leaving sentinels at each along the half-mile of the corps’s front. Devens sent orders not to advance, but Bruce rode back to tell him the order had come too late. He found the general at his headquarters and said he had already taken Fort Gilmer and the rest of the Confederate line. Devens shook his hand and said, “Hail to thee, Count of Gilmer.”

It was 5 a.m. Devens sent word to Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, the corps commander. By 6 Weitzel had ordered the division on to Richmond. Devens told Bruce to use his pickets as skirmishers, and Bruce pushed them as fast as he could. It took little prodding. The men “pressed on joyously, with a quick step and light hearts,” he wrote. “It was a refreshing march in the pleasant hour of a delightful morning.”

Along the way they saw green fields and an occasional abandoned farmhouse. They picked up rebel stragglers by the dozen. One saluted Bruce and asked how much the Union army was paying for arms and equipment.As Bruce’s men neared the Confederate capital’s inner defenses, they ascended a hill and got their first good view of Richmond.

“The city was wrapped in a cloud of densest smoke, through which great tongues of flame leaped in madness to the skies,” wrote Bruce. “A few houses on the higher hills, a spire here and there half smothered in smoke, and the hospitals to the east, were the only buildings that could be seen.

“Added to the wild tumult of the flames, ten thousand shells bursting every minute in the Confederate arsenals and laboratories were making an uproar such as might arise from the field when the world’s artillery joins in battle. But just on the verge of this maelstrom of smoke and fire, cattle were grazing undisturbed on the opposite hillside, and I saw a farmer ploughing in a field while cinders from the burning capital were falling at his feet.”

Rockett's Landing on the James River near Richmond
His men halted on the outskirts of Richmond at Rockett’s Landing, a port for the rebel capital. Soon an open barouche approached carrying Joseph Mayo, Richmond’s mayor, who had come to surrender the city.

His message read: “The Army of the Confederate Government having abandoned the City of Richmond, I respectfully request that you will take possession of it with an organized force, to preserve order and protect women and children and property.”

Mayo’s brother, who was with him, told Bruce a mob had taken over the capital and no one was fighting the fires. The brother owned Powhatan, an estate on the James River nearby. Bruce sent a soldier with him to ease his fears that his mansion and plantation would be looted and destroyed.

Flag captured from the CSS Hampton by Capt. William J. Ladd
Bruce now saw Devens’s division – his division – marching up behind the skirmishers to occupy Richmond. The leading brigade entered first, moving rapidly because of the flames, explosions and chaos ahead. The brigade's commander, Edward H. Ripley, of Rutland, Vt., had risen from the rank of private in the 9th Vermont Volunteers to brevet brigadier general.

Among the working-class residents of Rockett’s Landing, Bruce first observed how the war had affected southern civilians. “Handkerchiefs and strips of cotton cloth as flags of truce were pinned on the door-casements of the houses, from which women and children came out with piteous appeals for food,” he wrote. The Union men had nothing to share but returned as soon as they did.

Capt. William J. Ladd -- first to Richmond? 
Midstream in the James the soldiers saw a Confederate flag flying above a gunboat. Capt. William J. Ladd of Portsmouth, N.H., Bruce’s tent-mate and another 13th New Hampshire officer on Devens’s staff, rowed out to the boat and retrieved the flag. Just as he returned to shore, the gunboat exploded.

After the war, many men claimed to have been the first Union soldier to enter Richmond that morning. Bruce had read obituaries of “soldiers in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts who had gained the reputation in their own locality of being thus distinguished.”

Bruce had his own candidate for the distinction and firsthand evidence to support his choice. At 3 a.m., when Bruce realized what was happening, he sent a note back to Ladd to join him immediately. At about 5, Ladd, who had a fast horse, rode off toward Richmond with a 9th Vermont major. The major turned back, but Ladd rode on, reaching Capitol Square before 6. A Confederate sailor tried in vain to stick him with his cutlass before he returned to Devens’s headquarters. Many postwar histories identified Maj. Atherton H. Stevens of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry as the first man to enter Richmond, but Bruce saw Stevens and his squadron far from the city at 5:45 a.m.

“Whatever of honor or distinction attaches to the man who first entered the Confederate capital belongs, without a doubt, to Captain Ladd,” Bruce wrote.

Monday, June 23, 2014

To Richmond at last (part one)

Accounts of the capture of Richmond in early April of 1865 were plentiful. By then, the Union soldiers knew that destroying Robert E. Lee’s army was their real mission, but capturing the capital retained great symbolic meaning.

The story I used in Our War was that of Charles “Carleton” Coffin, the Boston Journal correspondent from Boscawen, N.H. He risked life and limb to reach Richmond on April 3 and was richly rewarded for his effort. The next day, he marched through the city’s streets with Abraham Lincoln as freed slaves fawned over the president.

But another New Hampshireman, George A. Bruce, was there even before Carleton. Bruce, who was from Mont Vernon, was a 25-year-old captain in the 13th New Hampshire, one of the first Union regiments to enter the city. He wrote a report the night of April 2 and a full account soon after.

Many years after the war, still seeking to correct errors in the way the events had been portrayed, he wrote “The Capture and Occupation of Richmond.” He presented the paper to the Military History Society of Massachusetts on April 15, 1915.

This is a condensed first part of Bruce’s story, taking the reader up to his realization that he was about to head into the rebel capital.

Brig. Gen. Charles Devens
Bruce had already gone to some trouble to correct the assertion that U.S. Colored Troops were the first to enter the city. Except for an African-American cavalry regiment that arrived in the city an hour after a brigade under Brig. Gen. General Charles Devens got there, no African-American soldiers got within two miles of the city.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler started the myth by speaking publicly of the poetic justice in former slaves first occupying the Confederate capital. George Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln’s wartime secretaries, picked up the the claim when they published their Life of Lincoln in Century Magazine. On Bruce’s advice, they corrected the error it in the book.

Bruce assured his listeners that his account relied only on documents he had written at the time, not from “a record made up from memory stretching back through the haze of half a century.”

Since mid-1864, the two armies had faced each other south of Petersburg and Richmond from 30-40-mile lines of trenches broken only by the Appomattox and James rivers. The distance between these lines varied from 100 yards to a mile. “So close was the contact that we could almost feel the pulse and hear the breathing of the hostile army,” Bruce wrote.

The Union men sensed that the war was near its end, but the winter and spring were cold and wet. Soldiers built houses of pine from nearby forests and warmed themselves with log fires. In December the Union armies reorganized. The 13th New Hampshire wound up in the 24th Corps in Gen. Devens’s division of the Army of the James. The African-American troops became the 25th Corps.

Bruce described the next three months as a period of “watchful waiting,” with large picket details at night and a full line of battle in the trenches each morning at 5. A tacit truce between the two sides – where the white troops were stationed at least – forbade firing by the pickets.

For the first time during the war, great numbers of Confederate soldiers began to desert to Union lines. It was “a very poor night when none came in,” Bruce wrote, and one brigade welcomed 40 deserters in a single day. “So eager were the later conscripts to escape the perils of the service that the prejudice of the color line was ignored.” Many deserted to the 25th Corps, “happy when having gained the protection of their former slaves.”

The deserters shared information aplenty. They described Confederate defenses, the strength of rebel armaments and the location of buried torpedoes. They reported that despondency had overcome southern troops and civilians alike. Bad news reached them almost daily, as Union armies captured Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington, N.C.

The last snow fell on March 24, “what we call in New England the robin snow,” wrote Bruce. Three days later, the Army of the James, except for Devens’s division and a division of African-American troops, moved south of Petersburg. These two divisions, under Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, were left to hold the lines north of the James.

Devens moved to Weitzel’s headquarters. As a member of Devens’s staff, Bruce moved with him. Because the telegraph line terminated there, Bruce began to see Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s messages and orders to Weitzel.

On April 1, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s troops turned Lee’s right at Five Forks, opening the way for an attack along the entire line the next day. This was a death blow to the Confederacy, and the day itself, a Sunday, seemed glorious to Bruce.

“In Virginia the spring comes forward suddenly and with greater splendor than in our more northern latitude,” he wrote. “It seemed to me that a more perfect day could not have dawned on the earth since the creation than that battle-Sunday about Petersburg. The sky was cloudless, and through the hushed air I heard distinctly for the first time the church bells of Richmond some seven miles to the north, and at the same time, though less distinctly, the subdued murmur and roar of the battle fifteen miles to the south.”

Brig. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel
At 11 a.m. he climbed a pine tree. He saw the Confederate works and could tell resistance to the Union attack was slight. He reported this to Devens, who sent him to Weitzel. The general cautiously observed that once the Union troops were in firing range, “we should find plenty of rebel heads showing themselves.” Weitzel, in Bruce’s view, was “an officer of much ability, but lacked confidence and the spirit of enterprise.” Bruce correctly guessed that Lee was about to retreat.

Devens put Bruce on night watch. Although the telegrams stopped, two deserters showed up in the middle of the night. Lee’s army was leaving, they told Bruce. He reported this intelligence to Devens, who ordered him to try to take the Confederate works opposite him if he could easily do so. Bruce rode to the brigades and then to the pickets to prepare them for the task.

“It was a warm, still night,” he wrote. “A soft wind, touched with the perfumes of earliest flowers and the first buds of spring, was moving gently from the west. The sky to the zenith was free from clouds, but toward the horizon a bank of smoky mists had settled, as is usual in that climate during the later hours of night.

“I cannot express the emotions with which I was stirred, as I rode alone through the night, with no sound heard and no object seen save the stars above and the wavy swells of the dusky earth beneath, with full authority, and with a full determination, to set in motion the right wing of the army, which I well knew would result in the immediate occupation of the Confederate capital and the speedy fall of the Confederate Government itself.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A voice from the past speaks to the future

The letterhead on one of the letters written by Willard Templeton of the 11th New Hampshire Volunteers.
Bringing the Civil War home to history students in any state that fought in it is so easy that you wonder why more teachers don’t do it. One who has is Graham Warder, an associate history professor at Keene State College.

Warder arranged with the New Hampshire State Library to lend the letters of Willard Templeton to his college’s Mason Library. Warder’s students set about to scan, transcribe the letters and post them online, a challenging job but also a rewarding one.

Templeton was 20, about the age of the students, when he enlisted in the 11th New Hampshire Volunteers during the summer of 1862. He lived in Hillsboro, about a 40-minute drive from the college. Templeton wrote about 140 letters from the field to family and friends.

In 1864 the 11th and two sister New Hampshire regiments joined a brigade under Brig. Gen. Simon G. Griffin, a native of Nelson, even nearer to Keene. At Spotsylvania on May 12, Templeton was wounded. Two and a half months later, he carried the colors into the battle of the Crater before Petersburg. Poor leadership by top generals turned this into a Union debacle for the Union, but Griffin’s men fought better than most. Templeton was killed in this battle.

Templeton was a keen observer eager to let his family and friends know just what he was going through. Letters home were uncensored and became a chief source of news on the home front. Soldiers lacked a sense of the big picture but were not shy about sharing camp rumors.

Contemporary newspaper map of the siege of Vicksburg.
In mid-June of 1863, the 11th took the steamer Imperial down the Mississippi River to join in Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. It was one of eight steamers in the squadron with gunboats along to protect them. Writing from onboard on June 13-14, Templeton painted his brother a vivid picture of his journey.

After a 170-mile voyage the first day, they reached Greenville, Miss. “We are now down where the guerrillas fire into the boats passing down,” he wrote. “A few miles above here a boat loaded with soldiers was fired into yesterday & several were killed a number wounded the boat disabled.”

The guerrilla attacks had prompted Union forces to burn the town. Now it looked desolate – “old chimney stacks shared [charred?] frames & ash heaps are about all that is left except negrow huts these are not disterbed.” They had passed through immense hardwood forests but as the heights along the river gave way to lower banks, they began to see plantations. “The negrow huts make quite a village so that the boys jokely ask what city is that.”

Templeton believed that Grant needed them. He was “feeling anxious to get there We want to help capture Vicksburg.”

They got their wish the next morning. “We have got in sight of the city of V & have seen the flashes heard the report of Grants big siege guns,” Templeton wrote.

This letter, transcribed by Michael Nevins, is just a slice of the life of one Union soldier. But as the Keene State students no doubt found out, the slices add up. The letters also prompt further inquiry. What did the 11th New Hampshire do at Vicksburg? Does Templeton write about his part in the siege? How did the siege turn out? Why was Vicksburg important?

More schools – high schools and colleges – should take advantage of such resources. The family of Willard Templeton saved his letters for posterity, as did families all across the North and South. How better for young people today to begin to understand their nation’s catastrophic civil war than through the witness of people their own age?  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Coming soon: The story of Dr. Livingstone's son

The story of the son of David Livingston (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) is coming soon to this blog. It turns out the younger Livingstone fought in a New Hampshire regiment under an alias. The next post will most likely include a wonderful letterhead showing a bird’s-eye view of Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula.

That said, the blog is likely to slow down with the advent of the New Hampshire summer.

Here are the 10 entries posted during the last two months that have attracted the most hits. They include three posts from the memoir of Henry S. Hamilton, an English-born horn player who served in the 3rd New Hampshire, two from the recent series on newspapering in Concord, N.H., and two from Sgt. Richard Musgrove’s sad account of 12th New Hampshire at Chancellorsville.

One post on the list – A farmer goes to war, his family bears the brunt – and another more recent one – “Life after death for a good soldier’s intentions” – show from different perspectives the effect of the war on families left behind.












And here are the all-time top 25, with hits ranging from 194 to 993. The post at No. 15 had the fastest rise on the chart during the last month. Also new to the list (tied for 24th) is a post from my journal series from the battlefield at Gettysburg, 




















20. History’s touch (18)





              A Gettysburg Journal (4) (new to list)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life after death for a good soldier's intentions

As any regular reader of this blog knows by now, Edward E. Sturtevant of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers left a paper trail. The longer I follow it, the more I learn and the more I admire him. There are posts about him here, here and here, and he is mentioned and pictured elsewhere. But until the other day, I didn’t know his life and death also provided a window into the post-Civil War federal pension system.

This is odd because Sturtevant died at Fredericksburg in 1862, a bachelor who left no children.
But for years before the war, first as a printer, then as a night constable for the Concord, N.H., police department, he had sent money to his family in Keene. His father George was unwell and aging. His sister Ellen did her best to carry on a social life but was unhealthy. After the war she still lived with her parents in the house Edward had built them.

By the mid-1880s, Ellen’s parents were dead, and she had turned 50 and moved into a home for invalids. Still, she had no way of paying for even minimal human needs. In 1886 she applied for a federal war pension on grounds that had Edward survived the war, he would have supported her.

Federal pension applications all went through Congress at this time. A pension agent probably guided Ellen Sturtevant through the process. As evidence of her situation, she included a statement from her doctor about her condition and a personal statement about how the family had always depended on Edward’s support.

Making public these private details was the way things worked in the 1880s, whether someone was applying for a war pension or town welfare.

Congress approved Ellen M. Sturtevant’s pension on Feb. 22, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed off on it, and the details were listed among scores of other pensions and relief petitions in a congressional report a few days later. The pension amounted to $12 a month. Most likely it rose slowly until Ellen’s death on Feb. 24, 1903, at the age of 69. (For a good primer on Civil War pension systems North and South, see this website.)

Sen. Henry W. Blair
The U.S. Senate document transcribed below includes Ellen Sturtevant’s statement and her doctor’s. The “Blair” mentioned is Republican Sen. Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire.

Below this document, I have added two letters written by Edward E. Sturtevant in 1860, the year before he went off to war. In addition to giving an interesting account of a police constable’s life (he was the overnight beat cop in addition to other duties), the letters support Ellen Sturtevant’s claims of dependency. Edward live frugally and took care of the family.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES.
                                                                                                                                                             January 25, 1887

Mr. Blair, from the Committee of Pensions, submitted the following report:

The Committee on Pensions, to whom was referred the bill (H.B. 10152) granting a pension to Ellen M. Sturtevant, have carefully examined the same, and report, recommending the passage of the bill. The appended House of Representatives report carefully states the facts, and is therefore adopted by your committee.

Ellen M. Sturtevant was the sister of Edward E. Sturtevant, late major of the Fifth New Hampshire Regiment, who was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Among the papers filed with this committee are the originals of several letters, covering dates from 1858 to 1861, written by Edward E. to his sister and parents. These disclose clearly that the family were largely dependent upon his contributions for support, and such contributions were made in considerable sums.

The sister, from allusions made in these letters, appears to have been in feeble health at that time. The statement of Dr. Twitchell shows that he has treated her for serious troubles since 1864, and that in all these years she has been incapable of self-support. She is at present an inmate of the Invalids’ Home at Keene, N.H., and in most strained circumstances.

Major Sturtevant was never married. Had he lived, there can be no doubt he would have continued the support of his unfortunate sister. He was killed in battle, and we think the Government may with great justice and propriety recognize the claim of the invalid sister thus left in a great measure dependent “upon charity.”

We recommend the passage of the bill.

*

I, Ellen M. Sturtevant, of Keene, N. H., upon my oath depose and say as follows: My age is fifty-one years, and my Post-office address as above. I am a sister of Edward E. Sturtevant, late major of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers (who was killed in action December 13, 1862).

Prior to and at the time of the enlistment of my said brother into said service, I was living with my father and mother in Keene aforesaid, in a house which my said brother built on Court street for us; at that time and ever since I was, for a large part of the time, sick and not able to take care of myself or earn anything. He gave us a home, and besides that he sent me money from time to time in amounts ranging from $5 upwards, so as to relieve my father as much as possible from the burden of my support (he, my father, being hardly able to get along and take care of himself and mother).

My said father and mother died about ten years ago, and all the property I have in the world is one-fifth interest in the house aforesaid, with a right to one-half of the rent (which is in all $150) after the taxes, water bills, &c., are paid. My said brother was never married, and it was a reason for his hesitating about enlisting, because he was afraid I could not get along without his being home to help support me.

Since the death of my brother I have had to get along without many of the comforts of life and most necessities of my condition, because I have had no means or resources to rely on. I have been at the Invalids’ Home at said Keene for about two years past. This institution gives me one-half of my board, and for the past year I have been unable to pay my proportion of taxes upon the house before mentioned. I am unable to wait upon myself only a part of the time, and when I am able to be around I can stand up but little, and can walk but a short distance at a time. I am able to do scarcely any sewing.

I was dependent upon my said brother for support at the time of his death, and have been dependent upon others ever since.

ELLEN M. STURTEVANT.

*
I, George B. Twitchell, of Keene, County of Cheshire and State of New Hampshire, on oath depose and say in relation to the claim of Ellen M. Sturtevant, of said Keene, for pension, as follows:

That I have been for the last forty-three years and am now a practicing physician in said Keene, and as such have professionally attended the said Ellen M. Sturtevant; that in the spring of the year 1864 was consulted by her. She was then suffering from uterine displacements and general ill health.  She was much debilitated, and had severe pain in back whenever she attempted to labor; could only move from bed or lounge to chair, and was entirely dependent upon others.

I have prescribed for her from time to time to the present time, though she had to my knowledge been at different times under the care of other physicians, and was at one time for many weeks at the Adams Marine Asylum, in Jamaica Plain, Mass. During all of these years she has been an invalid and able to do but little for her support, and when she has labored it has been with suffering, for she has had much neuralgia. At the present time she is able to do but little, and is now (May 15, 1886), an inmate of the Invalids’ Home.

I have no interest in the above claim for invalid pension.

                                                                                                 GEO. B. TWITCHELL

Before the war, Constable Edward E. Sturtevant worked out of the police station on the left. After his regular overnight shifts, he also slept there.
Here are the two letters from Edward E. Sturtevant to his family, beginning with one written on New Year’s morning, 1860, from the police station. It is on police stationery, listing John Kimball as city marshal, J.L. Pickering as assistant marshal and Sturtevant as constable.

                                                                                 Concord, N.H. Jan’y 1st 1860
My Dear Friends –

To each and all of you I wish “a happy new year.” For the last five years I have seen the last moments of the then expiring year and the first moments of the coming new year, and as often made many new resolutions. 1860 came in while I was near the Free will Baptist meeting house upon Centre st. passing round upon my beat as a night watchman of the city of Concord. But no matter where I was, or what I was doing, I hope that the new year finds you all well and in the enjoyment of your health.

I am well. I was happy to learn from your last letter that father was better. I have been very busy of late, and expect to be for a few weeks to come. Last week I caught a rogue which I have been after for some time. I found him in Manchester and brought him here. He was put under $500 each on two different complaints – one for stealing a horse and the other for passing counterfeit money. 

I am now engaged in ferreting out two or three burglaries. Have to work careful, and if I am not mistrusted shall undoubtedly succeed.

I have seen Henry [his brother, a printer] and he and his family are well. I never see it when it was better sleighing than now. I shall have to start in a few moments to go off about 20 miles to see what I can find out about some thieves.

How do you get along? Are you in want of money? If so don’t be afraid to let me know. I still board at the Phenix and sleep at the office, and like it first rate. I want to hear from you – write me often. There is not much news. I was appointed at the last session of the Governor and council a Justice of the Peace for this county, as of course I shall hereafter keep the peace of the state, although I have not yet taken the oath. It will be of some convenience to me in my business, but the appointment came unsolicited.

Things are now pretty quiet in this place. The firemen had a large ball here last week which passed off well. I did not attend. I must now close as I have got to go off. Pardon all mistakes, as I have not time to look over and see what I have written.

Respectfully &c. E.E. Sturtevant

P.S. Accept my best wishes for each and all of you and remember me to friends.

*

                                                                                                      Concord, Sept. 17th 1860
Dear Friends –

It is now about 4 o’clock in the morning, and as I have a few moments to spare previous to going to bed, I will try and write you a few lines. My health is good. I received Ellen’s letter some few days since – was happy to hear from home, but sorry to learn that you were not very well.

I have been very busy since mother and Willie were here. I caught that horse thief that I was after when I left here when mother started for home. I got him in the State of Maine, after a chase of about a week, and he is now convicted and in the State Prison. I have been engaged at the court for this county and Hillsboro’ county since mother left, consequently have not had much time to spare.

Have been at Amherst to attend court where I was witness – had to stay there about a week, and it is an awful dull place. I have also had to go to Manchester and some other places with the Wide Awakes* for political purposes and now I have got to attend the County Fair for this county which is held at the same time that your county fair is, and then I have got to go to the State Fair at Manchester. So you see that I am busy.

I do wish that you were well and comfortably off, and what I can do to make you so shall be done. I enclose twenty dollars at this time for your use. I shall go home as soon as I can get a little more leisure, but don’t worry about me.

I was surprised to hear that mother did not get home before 2 o’clock in the morning. I have not yet been up to see Henry’s folks since they have got back. He looks thin as usual, and is always at work. I don’t go any where, except on business. I have intended to call upon him before this time, but have not done it yet.

I hardly know what to write this morning, as it is time for me to turn in and get some rest, as the noise in the street will soon commence and I can’t then get to sleep. The weather is delightful and business except in my line is good now in this place. There is not much for me to do, only I have to keep round just as much as I should if I had a good deal to do. I still board at the Phenix.

I have got to write a long letter after I finish this, for a newspaper and send it off at 5½ o’clock, so I must close. Remember me to all friends. Write me often. Be careful of your health. Don’t worry about me. If you have time make me a few shirts, as I notice my shirts are getting ragged, but not very bad yet.

I shall endeavor to go home before winter. I have some notion of going off on another chase to-day for the old man that got out of prison, but don’t know for certain that I shall go. Excuse all bad writing, and bad spelling, and bad grammar, and write me soon. Good Bye.

In haste &c E.E. Sturtevant

Geo. W. Sturtevant Esq and Family Keene, N.H.

N.B. Write as soon as you receive this, as I shall feel anxious about the money reaching you. E.E.S.

*The Wide Awakes were supporters of Abraham Lincoln during the 1860 presidential election.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A mysterious death, a new clue

War is chaos, leaving many mysteries in its path. During the Civil War one of them surrounded the death of Edward E. Sturtevant, New Hampshire’s first volunteer. I had the good fortune to use letters from Sturtevant’s early life to tell his story in the first chapter of Our War, but I knew him long before that book.

Edward E. Sturtevant was killed at Fredericksburg.
Mark Travis and I found Sturtevant during the 1990s when we researched and co-authored My Brave Boys, a history of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers under Col. Edward E. Cross. Sturtevant was a former printer and cop who became a captain in the 5th and later its major. At Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, he was killed during the assault on Marye’s Heights.

Evidence about his death and the disposal of his body conflicted. We sifted it, decided what was most plausible and wrote it. At the end of the book Mark and I included a long footnote explaining the evidence and how we interpreted it.

At Fredericksburg, Lt. Janvrin Graves, of Tuftonboro, N.H., was 30 years old and second in command of the 5th’s Co. H. The captain was William A. Moore of Littleton, just 21. Moore was killed in the battle, Graves wounded. Five days later, from the 5th’s camp in Falmouth, Va., across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Graves wrote Moore’s father, Dr. Adams Moore, a letter Mark and I did not have before we wrote My Brave Boys. Here it is:

“It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son, Capt. William A. Moore of Co ‘H’ 5th NH Vols. who was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg Va. December 13, 1862. He was wounded through the left forearm while nobly leading his Co. in the fight.

“After receiving the wound in the arm he at once gave me notice of the fact and started to the rear. While passing from the battle field to the city he was hit by a shell, and in all probability instantly killed.

“I was not sure of the result till the day after the battle, when I got information from a wounded man who recognized him as he passed his body on the field. Being wounded myself I could do nothing personally towards getting his body, but everything was done by the Regt to get him & others that could be done.

Charles O. Ballou of Claremont, N.H. 
“There has been a detail sent across the river to bury the dead. His body was found & buried with Maj. Sturtevants & Lieut Ballous. I have a small valise, an overcoat, and one or two books which I shall send you the first opportunity.

“His pockets was rifled of all their contents by the rebels. I think he had near $40. on his person when we went into the fight and some little notions which I am not able to mention. Any other particulars I can give I will readily do so at your request.”

The wounded private who found Moore’s body on the battlefield was A. Morrison George, 22, of Acworth, N.H., whose grave is in nearby Lempster. George tried in vain to remove Moore’s sword to keep enemy or Yankee troops from stealing it. The next night, a search party mounted by Cpl. John McCrillis found George in a pigpen.

The “Ballou” mentioned in Graves’s letter was Charles O. Ballou, a 29-year-old from Claremont who was shot in the neck and killed at Fredericksburg.

Graves’s statement that Sturtevant’s body was buried with Ballou’s and William Moore’s is new to me, but it squares with the account Graves shared with William Child, who wrote the regimental history 30 years after the war. Graves was wounded beyond the Stratton House, more than a hundred yards from the stone wall that protected the Confederate infantry. He hobbled to the other side of the house for shelter. In describing the scene there, he told Child that Moore, Sturtevant and Ballou were among those who lay nearby. But he also said Col. Cross was there, which cannot be true, as Cross lay wounded just beyond a ravine back down the hill.

Graves’s letter to Adams Moore was written shortly after the battle, which lends greater validity to his statements. On the other hand, being wounded, he did not actually see the burial of Sturtevant’s body.

In researching My Brave Boys, I found no evidence in accounts other than Graves’s that officers or men saw Sturtevant alive on the battlefield after Cross was wounded. I concluded that he was killed by an artillery shell at about the same time Cross went down. Here is the footnote to that conclusion as it appeared in the book:

“Accounts of Sturtevant’s death were conflicting and vague. New Hampshire newspapers reported the deaths of other officers but said only that Sturtevant was ‘missing and supposed dead.’ Livermore*, who did not march to battle with the Fifth at Fredericksburg, wrote in 1866 that Sturtevant had been hit not far beyond the ravine ‘and died in a ditch.’ In Days and Events, his later memoir, he wrote that Sturtevant had died near the stone wall. According to his footnote in Days and Events, other officers in the regiment had ‘assured’ him that his 1866 account was incorrect. But there is no evidence Sturtevant was with the regiment beyond the first artillery fire. 

Capt. James Larkin
“James Larkin** gave no specifics of Sturtevant’s death in his letters to his wife. Although Janvrin Graves, George Gove, John M. McCrillis and others wrote in detail of deaths beyond the Stratton House, none mentioned Sturtevant’s. No contemporary account described any action by Sturtevant during the battle; in all other cases in which an officer of the Fifth was killed at Fredericksburg, there were such accounts.

“John W. Crosby’s*** recollections of the battle, published in the 1880s but probably written earlier, seemed accurate in nearly all aspects. Crosby wrote that Sturtevant was at the left of the regiment just as it cleared the ravine and was hit and killed at about the same time Colonel Cross was wounded, possibly by a fragment of the same shell. This early demise is close to the careful Livermore’s initial account and consistent with our reading of all the material we could find on the Fifth at Fredericksburg.”

*Lt. (later Col.) Thomas Livermore, who wrote Days and Events, his detailed and reliable memoir of service in the 5th, shortly after the war.

**The letters of Larkin, a 5th captain, were detailed. Like Sturtevant, he was from Concord and knew Sturtevant well. Larkin was the senior captain and the next in the chain of command after Sturtevant. It seems likely he would have written of Sturtevant’s death had he learned how it happened.

***A rebel ball shattered Pvt. John W. Crosby’s elbow at Fredericksburg. He lost the arm but returned to the regiment, rose to lieutenant and fought at Gettysburg. Crosby was from Milford, N.H.

So, what to make of all this?

You’re free to decide for yourself, of course, but I’m sticking to Mark’s and my original judgment about Sturtevant’s death. But we’re also open to new evidence.

Maybe one day the definitive story will turn up. Meanwhile, such mysteries make studying the war fun.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ordinary young men and the price of freedom

Morley Piper at the D-Day observance. (BBC.com)
After I finished my last post on the D-Day anniversary, my friend Al Hutchison, the music man, informed me that a mutual friend, Morley Piper, had been at the ceremonies in Normandy yesterday. Hutch and I are both retired newspapermen and knew Morley for years through the New England Newspaper Association, which he ran.


This morning, Hutch sent me Morley's speech from yesterday. Ten communities on the Normandy coast that were liberated by the invasion gave a lunch for visiting veterans. Morley, who is from Essex, Mass., and landed on June 6, 1944, with the 29th Infantry, was the speaker. Here is what he had to say:

My daughter Patricia and granddaughters Audrey and Laura, and I, have the honor this morning to represent the old soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division in expressing our heartfelt appreciation to our French Allies for welcoming us, our families and friends, with such endearing grace and French hospitality to your charming villages and communes for this historic commemoration of the searing battles fought here in World War II in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

It is an emotional trip for us, and bittersweet. To visit Normandy now, the cemeteries, the beaches, the battlefields, the communities, the museums, is inspiring and educational, providing the visitor a vivid story of the war – why  it was fought and how it was won – the Price of Freedom.

It does not seem possible now that it was 70 years ago. The soldiers of the 29th Division, on that gray cold morning of June 6, 1944, came ashore in small boats in one of the most momentous military engagements in history, an epic battle that changed the course of the war. It was anything but easy. For long hours, the battle hung in the balance. In fact, the Allied Command, at one point during the morning, thought the invasion was failing. Fortunately, it didn’t, and it marked the beginning of the end of the long Nazi occupation of Western Europe.

We managed, finally, to overcome the frightful obstacles to establish a beachhead – and move inland. Inland meant coming through your small towns – and into the treacherous bocage country, as we called it. We had not seen anything quite like it – the bocage – a bewildering and dangerous area with conditions we were not accustomed to or prepared for.

We were headed towards St. Lo. The Germans were determined to stop us, to prevent a breakthrough to St. Lo. It took us a long time to get there, about a month I think, through your communities. Our casualties were unimaginable.

I was in the 115th Regiment those many years ago. We had been assigned to take Saint-Clair-sur-l’Elle. But our advance was stopped in Sainte-Marguerite-d’Elle. We could not advance through a fierce German defense. The 116th, our sister regiment, was then sent in and they attacked from a different angle and were able to liberate your town.

The Price of Freedom: I mentioned our casualties. Terrible. Terrible on the beach, terrible throughout Normandy, terrible throughout the war. The 29th Division was on the front line a long time. We had 14,000 soldiers in the division at full strength. . . . and we had 22,000 casualties. 150 percent casualties. More than anyone else in the war. Not a figure to point to with pride, but stark testimony to the rigors of long service on the front lines from the beaches of Normandy to the Elbe River in Northern Germany, when the war mercifully came to an end.

We know a lot about military casualties, but I believe the Americans, as a group, did not give much thought about civilian casualties. At the time, in 1944, it was often not possible. The fact is, the toll on the French was unimaginable, too. Four years of German occupation, then the invasion and the exhilaration of being liberated. The price of freedom cost another tragedy, unavoidable, but a tragedy nonetheless.

The enormous loss of human life, the loss of your farm animals, destruction of your homes, devastation of entire cities. Tragedies all, though resulting in liberation. We want to acknowledge your sacrifice, the aid you unstintingly gave us as young soldiers, and we want to express our admiration for your courage, endurance and resistance during the war years.

We, the Americans, were all young soldiers, most of us, in the war. Ordinary young men, mostly, ordinary because we had led ordinary lives before the war. Lives that had not been fully developed. We had just come through the steel grip of the Great Economic Depression in the United States, and now were called to service. We became conscripts in a civilian-based Army that was sent to France, to Normandy, to go up against a professional German Army waiting on the bluffs high above the beaches, June 6, 1944.

Together, the 29th Division and the Norman people have a bond – a bond of loyalty, admiration, affection and honor that will endure, long after the World War II generation has passed from the scene. We have a bond that is eternal. We went through life-changing experiences during those extraordinary war years – the American Army and our French Allies. Those events shall live with us forever.

My own role in the war years was pretty small, but I was in the company of some very brave men. We few, we happy few, our blue-and-gray band of brothers. He who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.

We will rally ’round the flag,
We will rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

It is an inspiring event you have arranged for us today. We are already thinking ahead to joining you at the 100th Anniversary.

29, Let’s GO.

GOD BLESS AMERICA! VIVE LA FRANCE!

Morley Piper reaches out to the crowd during 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. (PBS.org) 

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day, then and now

U.S. troops in Weymouth, England, in June 1944 march to the ships that will carry them to Omaha Beach. The picture is
one in a series of then-and-now shots through which The Atlantic is observing the 70th anniversary of the invasion. A
link to the website is embedded in the last paragraph of this blog post. (Getty Images)
Years ago, Monique and I and Misha, our youngest son, visited the Normandy invasion beaches. We drove into the area with no place to stay, hoping to find a chambre d'hote (B&B). The first place we stopped was full for the night, but its owner made a phone call and told us to follow him.

We drove through the hedgerows and across an open area and pulled up at a nondescript one-story house. It turned out we were two short blocks from the cliff overlooking the English Channel. It took us a moment to orient ourselves, but we were near the point between the landing areas of the American and British troops on D-Day.


"The Path to Port en Bessin," by Monique Pride 
For three days we toured the beaches, cemeteries, channel-side towns and museums. A couple of times we walked along the cliff's edge to Port en Bessin for a meal. That village was where the U.S. and British armies converged. It was a stunningly beautiful walk in summer, with the blue channel to the right and, to the left, fields of wheat edged with poppies. In places the pulled-in bellies of the cliffs were white. Monique later painted this scene form photos we took, and the painting hangs on our kitchen wall.

Other sights were more sobering, of course, but nothing beat out luck in winding up in this particular B&B. On our first morning there, as the women who owned it served us a breakfast of fresh croissants and jam, she told us she had been there on D-Day. She was a young girl then. When she saw the British troops approaching, she went out with her family to greet a couple of soldiers in their yard and ask what they needed.

The answer was: Milk!

In such momentous times, such mundane realities

The landing happened 70 years ago today. Seven years ago, I interviewed a veteran of it for the Concord Monitor. His name was Elwood Thompson. He told his story in vivid detail. One scene that sticks in my mind is what he saw in the mud when he reached Omaha Beach. It was the camera of a news photographer who had been on his landing ship.

When Ken Williams went to take Mr. Thompson's photograph, Mr. Thompson put on his uniform jacket, which engulfed his shrunken frame. He stood leaning on his cane before the Franklin, N.H., veterans' monument with a resolute look on his face. Mr. Thompson is gone now, as are most of the men and women who could tell you firsthand stories of D-Day.

Here's a link to The Atlantic's fine effort to bring this history to life in another form. And here's my friend Morley Piper's speech in France (see below).


Barack Obama D-Day
As my friend Al Hutchison points out, that's our mutual friend Morley Piper (second from right) standing behind
President Obama's left shoulder today at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy. On Obama 's right (second from left in picture) is Francios Hollande, president of France. Morley landed on Omaha Beach with the 29th Infantry Division on D-Day. For many years he was director of the New England Newspaper Association. (Photo by Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images.) 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

'No man . . . shall sit upon the throne of my mind'

The remarkable Marilla M. Ricker wanted nothing more than to break glass ceilings. “Let come what will come, no man, be he priest, minister or judge, shall sit upon the throne of my mind, and decide for me what is right, true, or good,” she once said.

Marilla Ricker
In 1897 Ricker applied to become ambassador to Colombia. No woman had ever held an ambassadorship. Even if she wasn’t appointed, she wrote in her application, she wanted to establish a precedent by asking for the job. The new president, William McKinley, appointed the journalist Charles Burdett Hart instead.

That glass ceiling remained in place for more than a half century longer. Eugenie Moore Anderson broke it when Harry Truman chose her to head the U.S. mission in Denmark in 1949.

But Ricker was not without her supporters. One of them was Henry W. Blair, a former congressman and U.S. senator from New Hampshire. Blair’s letter to McKinley recommending Ricker went up for sale on eBay the other day. That and Ricker’s New Hampshire roots are the reasons for this post.

There’s no way of knowing, but I hope the letter is a draft. If not, Blair strove mightily for the record for the longest run-on sentence fragments in the history of letter-writing. Certainly he had slept through punctuation lessons in school.

But at least the letter asserts that appointing Ricker would be a memorable moment in McKinley’s presidency.   

Henry W. Blair, a former U.S. senator from New
Hampshire, was a Washington lawyer when he
wrote his letter on Ricker's behalf.
To introduce Ricker, my friend and former longtime colleague Felice Belman, now an editor at the Boston Globe, agreed to write a brief biographical essay. Fifteen years ago, she and I edited The New Hampshire Century, a book of profiles of leading New Hampshire figures of the 20th century. The subjects ran from Steven Tyler to David Souter, from Christa McAuliffe to Grace Metalious. Belman wrote the profile of Ricker.

So we begin with her primer on Ricker, followed by Frank W. Blair’s letter:

Here in 2014, electing women to positions of power has become routine in New Hampshire. The state’s two U.S. senators and two U.S. representatives are women. So is the governor. So is the speaker of the New Hampshire House.

They were elected on the basis of their experience, their political ideas, their campaign savvy. But they owe their positions in part to Marilla Ricker, a pioneering feminist who, more than a century ago, helped convince the state’s leaders and voters that women deserved a role in New Hampshire’s political life.

Ricker was born in New Durham, N.H., in 1840 and graduated from what was then Colby Academy in New London. She was a widow before she was 30. Her husband’s death left her money and independence – and she devoted the next 50 years to advocating for women’s rights. She was the first woman admitted to practice law in the state. She was the first woman to apply for a foreign ambassadorship. She was an outspoken atheist who believed organized religion was responsible for subjugating women.

Perhaps most important, Ricker was the first woman in the state to try to vote. She argued that her willingness to pay her property taxes afforded her the right. She argued that women deserved the same rights as blacks. She argued that without the vote, women would never have equal economic power. She argued that female voters would bring attention to issues men ignored.

Election officials were unmoved.

Ricker gave speeches all over the state. She hounded lawmakers and newspaper editors – but most were slow to come around.

In 1910 Ricker attempted to challenge Robert Bass for the Republican nomination for governor. To her thinking, she met the qualifications: She had lived in the state more than seven years and was more than 30 years old – in fact, she was 70. The secretary of state, however, ruled otherwise: Ricker wasn’t a voter and thus couldn’t be governor.

Nine years later, the state finally caught up to Ricker, ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

Ricker never held elected office herself, but she nonetheless took satisfaction in the change. The decision, she said, “placed the state of New Hampshire on the right side of one of the great questions of the day.”

*

And here is Blair’s letter:
                                                                                Washington, D.C.
                                                                                 May 3d 1897
To the President:

In addition to the numerous memorials and other manifestations of strong desire now on file for the recognition of the rights of women to a fair share of the responsibilities and emoluments of public office in a free government by the appointment of Mrs. Marilla M. Ricker to an important diplomatic position on the part of many influential able and influential persons and organizations from various parts of the country. I have the honor herewith to enclose a strong letter from Mrs. Lillie Devereaux Blake, President of the New York City Woman Suffrage League and who was one of the principal representatives of her sex before the Committees of the St. Louis convention and has long been a leader in the great movement which has already given the suffrage to women in several states and undoubtedly will in all in the next quarter of a century and in Great Britain made almost equally significant progress; unsolicited, able and generous, (because justice has hitherto been generosity to women); Editorial by Dr. Ridpath in the ‘Arena’ of the current month. 

Conscious that there are strong influences adverse to the appointment of Mrs. Ricker because, and only because, of her sex. I beg of you, Mr. President, not to neglect this pressing & fortunate opportunity to perform a great, just, and I may well say, conspicuous and immortal act, which, if done now, will be sure to rank hereafter among the most illustrious deeds of any American President.
                                                                                    Very respectfully,
                                                                                    Yr. Obt. Servant
                                                                                    Henry W. Blair