Friday, December 4, 2015

A betrothal, a lover's anguish, a face

Here is a chapter from Our War: Days and Events in the Fight for the Union, my book on New Hampshire’s Civil War history. In the book I strove to show the big picture through a bunch of little pictures. The book’s chapters are based on events of 50 days of the war as seen through the eyes of the participants.  

Frank Buzzell in his new uniform. He was a corporal by 1864.
Some of these events are personal, like this one, the story of a woman who has been hurt and perplexed by her lover. Her name was M. Annie Thompson. She was from Salisbury, N.H, her betrothed from the nearby town of Andover.

The reason I’m sharing the story here is that, through my friend David Morin, I have just found a picture of Frank Buzzell, the soldier in question. Many of the subjects of Our War are pictured in the book, but not Buzzell.

I don’t know what you’ll think, but when I saw him, I was not surprised that the man in M. Annie Thompson’s life looked like this.


One winter’s day in 1864, M. Annie Thompson went to Andover, Corporal Frank Buzzell’s hometown, to post the formal declaration of their intention to marry. A twenty-year-old teacher, Thompson lived with her parents in nearby Salisbury. The groom-to-be was off with his regiment and could not go with her. A twenty-six-year-old minister’s son, he had been a farmer before volunteering with the Fourth New Hampshire in 1861. But Frank Buzzell had a secret. He had just re-enlisted for three years without telling Thompson. His decision had the potential to keep the couple apart until early 1867.

When Buzzell broke the news by mail, Thompson found it a “kind letter,” but she had expected him home in months and the prospect of more years of danger for the man she loved brought her low. What hurt most was that he had acted on his own. She made this point between the lines of her response to him on the pleasant Sunday afternoon of February 21, the day after she received the news. She was so upset she could not go to church that day, and it took her six pages to pour out her emotions. “Oh Frank,” she wrote, “you do not know how my heart aches – how each beat is laden with deep deep sorrow.” She hated the idea that “another three years must wear away” before they could be together. And yet she saw her pain as a sign of the depth of her love for him. “I never felt the need of your sympathy and love as I do to-day – never knew before yesterday and to-day how much I love you,” she wrote. She sometimes dreamt of him the night before a letter arrived, as she had before his latest letter. He had talked about re-enlisting, but she had hoped he would come home to her instead. “God knows I would have you do what you think to be right and I would try to help you tho it cost a mighty struggle with my own feelings.” She took him at his word that his decision was best for both of them. “I will not murmur,” she wrote. And then she murmured: “Angels cheer your way – though you will never know how hard it has been for me to do so.”

She told him she would be with him wherever the war took him. “Whenever you are lonely, sad or weary, then remember that Annie though far, far from you still loves you and sympathizes with you in all your trials and hardships.” Her hurt made her long for him as never before. “I love you as ever and wish more than ever to see you and receive your loving embraces,” she wrote. She hoped he would get the commission he wanted, especially if being an officer made soldiering safer. She prayed for a furlough so they could be together, even if only briefly. She respected him for becoming a soldier. “I am glad that as things occurred to bring about this cruel war, you were one of those who possessed sufficient patriotism to enroll your name among the many that were bound to serve their country and strive to defend and protect its rights. . . . Yes, I love and pity the poor, suffering soldier.” She did not mean any soldier, of course. “Some day, I hope not far distant – may see us happy together – but alas only for a few short days. . . . How I would love to put my arms round your neck and say ‘good bye’ with a good kiss and receive one too. Just imagine me doing so, and believe me to be – yours as ever.”

Frank Buzzell knew a good thing when he saw it. He came home on furlough even sooner than Annie had asked him to. On March 20, less than a month after her letter, the couple rode to Fisherville, where the governor’s son, the Baptist minister Joseph H. Gilmore, performed their wedding ceremony.

Four months later, in the trenches at Petersburg, a rebel marksman shot Buzzell halfway between the right elbow and the wrist, shattering his ulna. A surgeon removed four inches of bone. Buzzell’s recovery was long and difficult. Gangrene nearly cost him his little finger, and in time both that finger and his ring finger became deformed. The other fingers stiffened and curled so that his right hand was useless. His arm atrophied.

In the unpredictable way of war, Buzzell’s re-enlistment did not lengthen his service. True, his treatment lasted until February of 1865, when he was discharged at Depot Hospital in Concord, but it would have been long in any case. For re-enlisting, he received a bonus, a promotion to sergeant, and the furlough during which M. Annie Thompson became Annie Buzzell.

Frank brought home her beseeching letter, and they kept it. Each added a note to the end. Frank wrote his while still a soldier: “God bless you Annie B. I have kissed your name for I wished to kiss you and could not.” In a corner of the same page, she wrote: “This is the last letter that M. Annie Thompson wrote to F.A.B. and signed her name.” She meant her maiden name, and to emphasize the point, she underlined “Thompson.” 


  1. Another picture, another great story. Dave

  2. Mike, I have a pic of a military funeral on Main Street in Concord NH that I need help IDing. I believe it may be that of Lieutenant Charles Webster Walker, Concord's first Civil War fatality, and featured in "Our War" (pp 15-18), but not sure. How might I send you a jpg pic file? Can't find your email address with a Geiger counter. Thank you, kindly. -Scott in Concord NH

    1. Hi Scott, you can reach me at If it is a coach (hearse) with plumed horses in front of the State House, I'm pretty sure I saw it along the way while researching Walker's story in Our War, If you send me what you have, I'll let you know if it is the same.