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.

                                                                                                                                                             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.


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.

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