Sunday, September 20, 2015

14. Epilogue: Two soldiers, home from the wars

Eldad Rhodes's daughter did history a favor by writing a note on the back of this drawing made at Antietam in fall of 1862. 
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Freedom Rhodes, Eldad's brother
During a five-day stretch of the winter of 1863, Pvt. Cutler Edson and Sgt. Eldad Rhodes left the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. Both were discharged with disabilities. Edson, who had been sick and despondent for nearly two months, went home on Jan 29, 1863. He was 43 years old. On Feb. 3, Rhodes received his discharge at the military hospital in Frederick, Md., where he had been convalescing after being shot through the right lung at Antietam. He had returned to the battlefield with his brother Freedom four weeks earlier.

Both men lived out their lives as veterans of one of the most celebrated Union regiments in the Civil War. Edson had volunteered as a bugler in the 5th New Hampshire on Oct. 18, 1861, as it was coming together in Concord. Eldad Rhodes had been recruited in Lancaster at the beginning of 1862 and joined the regiment in Virginia that winter. Both experienced the carnage and frenzy of battle at Fair Oaks, Va., during the retreat from the Peninsula known as the Seven Days and at Antietam. Rhodes was twice wounded. Probably after Malvern Hill and certainly after Antietam, Edson helped him from the battlefield and nursed him.

Both men were in military hospitals when the 5th made its suicidal charge up Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. And they were civilians at home as their old regiment fought on at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Deep Bottom, Ream’s Station, Fort Stedman, Dinwiddie Court House, Sailor’s Creek and Farmville. In the last named battle, the 5th lost 22 men and officers killed. This occurred two days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.  

The lives of Edson and Rhodes crossed again in New Hampshire.

Helen Rhodes Brockway's note on the back of the Antietam drawing made by her father.
That story is best told in a note inscribed on the back of a sketch Rhodes made of the two of them together near Antietam Creek shortly after the battle. In the sketch they sit together near their tent. Rhodes had been shot through the lung, and when their regiment moved from Antietam to Bolivar Heights with the Army of the Potomac, Edson stayed behind to care for him.

Note how the dapper Eldad Rhodes rests his right arm, weak
from his Antietam wound, on a draped chair.
Many years later, the drawing was the prized possession of Helen Rhodes Brockway, Eldad’s only daughter. She wrote a note on the back telling its history. Here it is:

“This was drawn by my father Eldad Alexander Rhodes, in a few weeks after he had been severely wounded through the right lung at the battle of Antietam. He is supposed to be the man sitting at the left of the table with a coat thrown over his shoulders. His right arm of course was useless. The other man is my grandfather, Cutler Edson, who was a bugler in my father’s regiment, the 5th New Hampshire. He it was who helped my father from the battle-field, and nursed him tenderly in the little tent shown in the picture. The coats hanging on the fence are the ones that were cut off from my father, and were soaked with his blood.

“This rough little sketch was sent home in a letter, and started the little romance that finally ended in the marriage of Abbie Edson to my father. It is her writing on the bottom of the picture, and I greatly desire it may be left as it is in the little frame where her loving hands placed it. Of all my pictures I think this is the dearest, as it brings my father and mother so near to me. She died in April 1893 after only eleven short years of happy life with him, when I was nine years old; and he was taken from me June 15, 1918 at the age of seventy-two years. He died from the effects of the wound he received while fighting bravely for his country. All honor to him, and to all the old soldiers who were as brave and courageous as he!

“I hope his little granddaughter Barbara Brockway will cherish this as lovingly as I have, and teach her children to love it, and her grandfather’s memory.

“Helen Rhodes Brockway”  

Eldad Rhodes was born on Jan. 10, 1841, in Northumberland, a town in Coos County, New Hampshire’s northernmost. When the war began, he was living in Lancaster, the county seat. This was the hometown of Edward E. Cross, the fiery colonel of the 5th New Hampshire, who was killed at Gettysburg.

Freedom Rhodes's grave in Lancaster
In 1876, after returning to Lancaster from the war, Rhodes moved across the Connecticut River to Guildhall, Vt., where he farmed and taught school, but he retained his New Hampshire ties. While serving as a Republican in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1878 to 1880, he was also adjutant of the Col. E.E. Cross post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Lancaster. In an age of men’s clubs, the GAR was the ultimate men’s club, a large and powerful organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.

Freedom Rhodes, the elder brother with whom Eldad had gone back to Antietam in 1863, returned to Lancaster after he resigned his commission in the 14th New Hampshire in 1863 and later served as a justice. He died at the age of 42 in 1881 and is buried in the town’s Wilder Cemetery. The grave of Col. Cross is also there.

Cutler Edson, meanwhile, returned to Enfield in 1863 but moved to Claremont in 1865 with his wife Louisa and their five children. He continued to work as a brick mason.

A farming and mill town on the Sugar River, Claremont was larger than Enfield. It had suffered great loss during the war. In Edson’s regiment alone, 89 Claremont men had enlisted in Co. G, known as the Claremont company, under Capt. Charles Long. Two years later, when the company returned home after Gettysburg, a crowd filled Claremont’s town hall for a banquet to welcome them. There were just 12 soldiers left.

Louisa Hoyt Edson
Cutler Edson died at the age of 61 in 1881. His wife, whose maiden name was Louisa Hoyt, collected a federal war widow’s pension until her death at age 90. That was in 1915, when the pension was $12 a month.

Edson’s daughter Abbie had been five years old when he went to war in 1861. Later she struck up an acquaintance with Eldad Rhodes, the younger man her father had befriended during the war. Abbie, a good student, graduated from Stevens High School in Claremont and volunteered as a Sunday school teacher. She later taught school of Claremont.

By the time Cutler Edson died, Rhodes had moved to Claremont. The following year, on Sept. 27, he married Abbie Edson. She was 26, he was 41. They had one daughter, Helen, born in 1884. It was this daughter who later wrote the note on the back of the drawing from Antietam.

Abbie Edson Rhodes was diagnosed with Bright’s disease (kidney disease) three years into her marriage. She died eight years later, on April 24, 1893. Eldad lived with Helen for the rest of his life. Beginning in 1903, he was the town weigher, charged with verifying the weight of hay, coal and other commodities. He died at home, 229 Pleasant St., on June 15, 1913, at the age of 72, and was buried nearby in Pleasant Street Cemetery.

His obituary listed the cause of death as pulmonary trouble. As Helen Rhodes Brockway wrote, he and the family believed that in the end it was his Antietam wound that killed him.

End of series, which begins here

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