Sunday, June 21, 2015

A father writes home from the war

In honor of Fathers Day, here is an excerpt from one of the best New Hampshire Civil War soldier letters I ever found. It was written by Lt. James Larkin to his wife Jenny. They had two small children, Bubby and Belle, and the lieutenant was thinking about the burden his absence placed on his wife.

James B. Larkin
Larkin had been an ornamental painter in Concord before the war. He and his family lived in a small house that I drove past often during my years as an editor in Concord. As he relates in the letter, one reason he took a commission in 1861 was that he was struggling to support the family. 

Larkin wrote to Jenny from the Virginia Peninsula just before the 5th New Hampshire Regiment’s first battle, at Fair Oaks on June 1, 1862. Here is what he had to say:

“As the contending armies seem now to be on the eve of a fierce battle, and many a brave form will be layed silent in Death, and Thousands of homes will be called to mourn for loved ones slain, it is not unreasonable to supose that I may be among the number who shall fall on that day. Still I have no fears. On the contrary I feel I shall come out safe & be restored to your loving embraces once more.

“But if it is ordered otherwise I feel that I should leave some advise and a consoling word for I am not unmindful of the greate responsibility which rests upon you in bringing up those Darling little ones. Many is the hour I have lain and thought of these things in the stillness of night before and since I left you.

“It was a greate sacrifice for me to leave you, & you thought it could not be possible I could do it, thinking so much of my children as I did. But the greate love I bore them, & you, was one of the principal reasons which led me to leave you. For in connection with the duty I felt I owed my country I felt I owed as greate a duty to my family.

“Times were hard. I thought if I could save a few hundred dollars to enjoy with my family hereafter, benefit my health, & at the same time serve my country, I should be discharging a solemn duty to my family and my country. But you will say you would prefer poverty with me, to riches without me. But I am to proud to see you and my children want for anything which I could possibly get.

“If I fall you will come in possession of ($1500) fifteen hundred dollars by my life insurance, & with what other property you have will with carefull use & investing it at good advantage enable you to suport yourself & Children & educate them respectfully. 

"But above all things Dear Jenny be watchful of their moral training that there may never be a blot on their dear name or character. Oh with what ceaseless vigilance should you watch over little Bell that she may grow up to womanhood as spotless and pure as she is now. I can see her now, the same little pure Angle that she was the first time I pressed my lips to her sweet mouth. You may think I am partial to her, but I love darling buby just as well. But a boy can make his way through the world easier than a girl. But I would not have you be less careful with his morals.

“The little dears will never know their father, but Jenny, if such a thing is possable, after leaving this earth I shall ever be with you & them to assist your trying and lonley journy through this short life until we meet where partings will be no more.”

A few minutes before crossing the Chickahominy River for battle, Larkin signed his letter: “Good by Dear ones. Yours in Death and Life.”

Maybe he really did believe, as he wrote in his opening paragraph, that he would survive the battle; maybe he just said it to soothe his wife’s fears. But in fact he lived through the battle and several more and rose to be lieutenant colonel of the 5th. The war took a severe toll on his body, as his pension record shows, but after three years he came home to his Jenny, Bubby and Belle.

In 1868, he led Concord’s first Memorial Day parade on Main Street.  

No comments:

Post a Comment