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Calvin D. Mehaffey papers, 1862-1863

18 items

Calvin Mehaffey's letters to his (unnamed) mother document two periods of Mehaffey's Civil War service in the 1st U.S. infantry regiment. They especially provide coverage of parts of the Peninsular Campaign (March-June, 1862), as well as the period of time in which he was posted near Vicksburg, in the Teche Country, and in New Orleans (August-November, 1863).

Calvin Mehaffey's letters to his mother represent only a small percentage of a once voluminous correspondence. From the eighteen letters that survive, it seems clear that Mehaffey wrote home regularly. The collection documents two periods of Mehaffey's Civil War service, providing excellent coverage of parts of the Peninsular Campaign (March-June, 1862), as well as the period of time in which he was posted near Vicksburg, in the Teche Country, and in New Orleans (August-November, 1863). The remainder of Mehaffey's service is essentially undocumented.

Mehaffey's correspondence reflects the frenetic activities and experiences of a junior staff officer, shouldering administrative responsibility rather than muskets, and the letters provide a number of detailed, fleshed-out stories illustrating the duties and activities of staffers. Among the descriptive masterpieces in the collection is an outstanding account of Mehaffey patrolling the James, confiscating boats and securing supplies, and a novel-like account of the Teche country operations of October 1863. Although Mehaffey describes little in the way of military engagements in this letter, his stories of the local scenery, citizenry, and the movements of troops are engaging and important for conveying, if nothing else, a sense of the logistical demands confronting the federal army in the deep South. In other letters, his encounters with the brothers of George McClellan and ex-President John Tyler, and with the father of Ulysses S. Grant, provide unusual insights into those men.

Mehaffey's comments on Yorktown during the Peninsular Campaign are packed with details about the condition of the city after the Confederate departure and the response of federal officers. From a narrowly military perspective, the letter written in the wake of the Battle of Malvern Hill may be even more interesting. In it, Mehaffey provides a furious sketch of the confusion in federal forces after the battle, the pain of the wounded and the presence of shell shock among many of the survivors. His involvement in assisting in the organization of field hospitals and ferrying the wounded, and the palpable swing in mood from his previous admiration of McClellan to his dread at enduring the humiliation of retreat are equally noteworthy.

In a different vein, Mehaffey's position with the Provost Marshal put him in a unique position to see and comment upon the administration of military justice. Two letters are particularly valuable in documenting an incident in which a slave, Lightfoot, allegedly exacted revenge on the family of his slave master by tying them to a tree and raping the women. Tried and convicted, Lightfoot was himself tied to a tree overnight to await public execution. He escaped, however, setting in motion a full scale search.


Fish family papers, 1847-1933

1.25 linear feet

The Fish Family papers contain the personal letters of Harry S. Fish of Williamson, New York, and his children who, over the course of the 19th century, scattered throughout the United States, fought in the Civil War, and suffered sickness and poverty during the postwar period. Also present are letters to J. Clifford Robinson from his mother and sister, and letters written annually from Franc Edith Aldrich Arnold to her friend Maud Bradley Robinson, from 1887 to 1933.

The Fish family papers (417 items) contain the personal letters and writings of a family from Williamson, New York, whose members, over the course of the 19th century, scattered throughout the United States, fought in the Civil War, and suffered though sickness and poverty during the postwar period. The bulk of the letters (336 in all) concern Harry S. Fish and his children: Dan, Carlton, Selby, and Julia Fish. Also present are letters to J. Clifford Robinson from his mother and sister, and 47 letters written annually from Franc Edith Aldrich Arnold to her friend Maud Bradley Robinson, spanning 1887 to 1933. The collection also contains 25 calling cards, 9 social invitations, 2 documents, 1 essay, 13 miscellaneous items, and one lock of hair.

Correspondence series :

The Fish family letters subseries (336 items) largely document the lives of Dan, Carlton, Selby, and Julia Fish. Throughout, the siblings discuss their deep animosity toward their father. The first four letters (1847-1850) are between Wright R. Fish, in Poughkeepsie, New York, and his father Isaac Fish, in Williamson, New York. Letters written during the Civil War-era include 18 letters from Carlton, 27 from Selby, 14 from Daniel, 9 from Judson Rice (all addressed to Julia), and 49 letters from Julia to Carlton (with 3 additional, post-war letters). These include descriptions of the Peninsular Campaign (Yorktown and the Seven Days Battles, particularly Gaines's Mills) by Selby, and Judson Rice's account of 1st Winchester. Both Selby and Carlton commented on their regiment’s occasional ill discipline and low morale. Selby described his experience in army hospitals and sometimes reflected on death, war, and the hard life of a soldier.

Dan’s letters, written mostly from California and Oregon, provide commentary on the life of an itinerant (and sometimes vagrant) traveler in the gold fields of the Far West. Julia described local events and family news, frequently discussing family strife. She occasionally discussed the politics and society in Williamson. In a particularly notable incident onJuly 17, 1864, Julia consulted a psychic to diagnose Carlton’s mysterious illness, which appeared during the siege of Yorktown in May 1862. Many Civil War era letters contain illustrated letterheads.

The collection contains material concerning southern perspectives of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras, including 59 letters written to Julia Fish by Selby Fish and/or his wife, Josephine, from New Orleans (1864-1871); 7 letters from Selby to Carlton (1867-1869); and letters from Carlton to Julia: 7 written from Grant City, Missouri, (1868-1869); 27 from New Orleans, Louisiana (1869-1883); and 3 from San Antonio, Texas (1883). Of note are two letters written by Carlton from Grant City, Missouri, in which he described the surge of population in a "back woods" town in northwestern Missouri, as post-war westward expansion peaked (October 18, 1868 and October 24, 1869). Also of interest are Carlton’s accounts of his struggles with poverty and unemployment (November 8, 1889), and Dan’s report on joining the Good Templars in 1867; he described a wild ceremony that featured riding a goat backwards and climbing a greased pole with bare feet.

The J. Clifford Robinson letters consist of 63 letters and postcards, written to J. Clifford Robinson by his mother and sister Gertrude in 1895 and 1896. These offer a perspective on an intensely close mother-son relationship in the 1890's, and contain many remarks of motherly advice.

The Fish family letters subseries ends with 13 condolence letters addressed to Maud Bradley, comforting her on the death of her mother, Julia Fish Bradley, in 1905.

The Arnold-Robinson letters subseries contains 47 letters written annually, on New Year's Day, by Franc Edith Aldrich Arnold to Maud Bradley Robinson, reflecting on the events of the year, and reminiscing about their childhood together in Pultneyville, New York (1887-1933). These letters were written every year from 1887-1933, from their teenage years through retirement. In these, Arnold discussed her concerns about remaining unmarried, her inability to have children, and her desire to adopt a child.

The Ephemera, Photographs, and Miscellaneous series (55 items) is comprised of 5 items of ephemera concerning Julia Fish Bradley and her relatives; 25 calling cards from friends of Julia Fish Bradley; 9 invitations to parties and balls addressed to J. Clifford Robinson, (1890's); 13 miscellaneous writing fragments; and 3 cartes-de-visite of Selby Fish (c. 1869), Joseph E. Johnston (c.1863), and Nathaniel Lyon (c.1861).


George T. and Harriet Stevens papers, 1850-1920

5.5 linear feet

The collection consists of correspondence, primarily between George T. Stevens and Harriet W. Stevens of Essex County, New York , as well as documents, writings, a scrapbook, printed materials, and realia reflecting the Civil War service of surgeon George T. Stevens of the 77th Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, Harriet W. Stevens' experiences on the home front, and George T. Stevens' post-Civil War medical career in Albany and New York City, New York.

The collection consists of correspondence, primarily between George T. Stevens and Harriet W. Stevens of Essex County, New York, as well as documents, writings, a scrapbook, printed materials, and realia reflecting the Civil War service of surgeon George T. Stevens of the 77th Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, Harriet W. Stevens' experiences on the home front, and George T. Stevens' post-Civil War medical career in Albany and New York City, New York.

The Correspondence Series is divided into two sub-series. The Chronological Correspondence Sub-Series spans from 1859 to 1866 with over 560 letters. While a few other correspondents are represented, the bulk of this series reflects both sides of the correspondence between George T. Stevens and Harriet ("Hattie") W. Stevens. Beginning with their courtship in 1859, the letters reflect George's early efforts to set up medical practice in Keeseville, New York, in 1861, his entry into the army, and their relationship and experiences throughout his service during the Civil War.

George's letters give a detailed glimpse into the practices of Civil War surgeons. Beginning with his efforts to secure an appointment as an Assistant Surgeon and the internal jockeying for position that caused infighting, George's letters to Hattie provide insight into the interpersonal conflicts and partnerships that undergirded his experience as an officer. Miscommunications about a medical furlough he took from May to October 1862 due to a case of typhoid fever led to his dismissal, and George's letters speak frankly about his efforts to reenlist as well as his frustrations with barriers to accomplishing this goal. Writing reports, securing transportation and goods, and tending to administrative details also pepper George's correspondence, shedding light on the clerical demands on his time.

George wrote frequently of daily life and tasks in camp, noting food, music and reading, camaraderie, mud, weather, camp health, and more. His detailed descriptions of camp life and activity also provide glimpses of others, including those who worked for him, like Dall Wadhams, who entered the army with him and stayed until March 1862, and James Mages, a young German-American, who worked for George from September 1863 to around June 1864 when he was taken prisoner of war.

George's commentary on camp life also at times reflects information about African Americans' experiences and white soldiers' opinions on race, slavery, and emancipation. Example references include:

  • African American workers (March 12, 1863; September 6, 1863; November 23, 1863; December 20, 1863; June 25, 1864)
  • "Contrabands" and refugees (March 25, 1862; June 20, 1863; August 2, 1863; October 17, 1863)
  • African American residents in Virginia who George encountered during marches (April 9, 1862; April 13, 1862; April 25, 1862)
  • Rumors of arson in Charleston (December 19, 1861)
  • Emancipation Proclamation (January 3, 1863; January 7, 1863)
  • African American soldiers (June 27, 1864)
  • Violence perpetrated against African American soldiers at Plymouth and Fort Pillow (April 26, 1864; May 3, 1864)

George T. Stevens' letters also reflect on marching conditions, as well as details about setting up hospitals and tending to the sick and wounded. Letters describing battles reflect not only on military movements and engagements but also on the fieldwork undertaken by surgeons, amputations in particular, and the dangers to which they were exposed. He commented on medicine, transport of the wounded, illness, and death. For much of May 1864, he was stationed in Fredericksburg tending to soldiers wounded during the Overland Campaign, before returning to his regiment late in the month, and his letters reflect this work.

In addition to passing references to additional battles, the military engagements or their aftermath that George T. Stevens' letters reflect on include:

  • Siege of Yorktown and Battle of Lee's Mill (April 1862)
  • Battle of Williamsburg (May 1862)
  • Chancellorsville Campaign and Second Battle of Fredericksburg (April and May 1863)
  • Battle of Franklin's Crossing (June 1863)
  • Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863)
  • Bristoe Campaign (October 1863)
  • Battle of Rappahannock Station (November 1863)
  • Battle of Mine Run (December 1863)
  • Battle of the Wilderness (May 1864)
  • Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 1864)
  • Battle of Cold Harbor (June 1864)
  • Siege of Petersburg (June 1864)
  • Shenandoah Valley Campaign (August 1864)
  • Third Battle of Winchester (September 1864)
  • Battle of Fisher's Hill (September 1864)

George and Harriet discussed their own health in good detail. George experienced a difficult bout of typhoid fever beginning in May 1862 and another illness in April 1864, which brought Harriet to tend to him during his recoveries. George and Harriet both commented on military and political events. Harriet was an avid reader of the news, tracking the 77th Regiment's movements and engagements. George commented several times that she was better informed than he was. "The rumors you have in regard to our moving are only the reports of the soldiers in camp who know as much of our future movements as they do of the next arctic expedition in search of Sir John Franklin," he wrote on January 24, 1862. Both were candid in their criticisms of military leaders.

As his regiment was periodically stationed near Washington, D.C., including for several months in late 1861 and early 1862, George's letters contain commentary about conditions in the city. Harriet's occasional trips to visit George in camp or to tend to him during bouts of illness also found her staying in D.C. She remained in the city hoping to visit George while the Battle of Gettysburg was being fought. Her letters during these times provide additional insight into how women and camp followers experienced D.C. and how residents responded to war news.

Harriet's letters written while she was staying with family at Wadham's Mills and Crown Point provide information about the home front. Discussions of finances, family news, anxiety for George's wellbeing, military events, health, music and reading, and more pepper her letters. As she and George wrote each other frequently, both sides of their conversation are often represented, showing the back-and-forth dialog that the couple sustained throughout the war. Notes written on envelopes by Harriet W. Stevens in later years identify letters that were of interest to her or provide clarifying information, hinting at George and Harriet's ongoing consultation of their wartime correspondence. George and Harriet's interest in botany is also well represented in the series. They discussed plants and sent each other pressed flowers and leaves.

Frances ("Frankie") Wadhams Davenport Ormsbee is also well reflected in the series. While she contributed only a small handful of letters, George T. and Harriet Stevens commented regularly on her and her husband George Davenport, beginning with a reference to their courtship in a letter from May 13, 1859. George T. Stevens discussed visits with George Davenport while they were both in active service, as well as with Frances while she was visiting him in camp. Letters referencing Frances, as well as George's own letters detailing his preparations for Harriet to visit him in camp, provide insight into officers' wives' experiences staying in the military encampments. Upon George Davenport's death at the Battle of the Wilderness, George T. Stevens wrote home with news he had about the nature of his death and burial, and corresponded with Harriet and Frances as they worked to recover his body and process their grief.

Several letters from other members of the Stevens and Wadhams families are also present. Additionally, as Wadham's Mills was located near the Canadian and Vermont borders, the series at times reflects on affairs in those regions. For example, Harriet W. Stevens' letter from December 19, 1861, states, "...the most prominent business men in Canada were drilling men three times a week. Frankie & I think that if we go to war with England, we shall just put on pants & go to." She also wrote of news regarding St. Albans Raid (October 20, 1864; October 23, 1864; October 30, 1864; November 2, 1864).

Correspondence from after George's service is far less frequent. It includes a letter from a former patient whose arm he saved during the war (February 19, 1865), a few letters from other members of the 77th Regiment, and material relating to the Stevens's move to Albany. One item written by James McKean on May 3-June 8, 1865, outlines reactions to news of the Civil War in Honduras, including references to an African American man and young indigenous Honduran boy.

George T. Stevens included sketches and drawings in some of his letters to Harriet. Letters that include pen-and-ink illustrations are listed below:

  • February 20, 1861: wedding ring designs
  • December 17, 1861: George T. Stevens' furnishings at the Regimental Head Quarters
  • December 29, 1861: decorated encampment of the Vermont 4th
  • January 8, 1862: sketch of Fredericksburg and vicinity
  • January 12, 1862: map of cross-roads where he got lost in D.C.
  • January 21, 1862: portrait of Dall Wadhams to illustrate weight loss
  • January 29, 1862: sketch of his quarters
  • February 2, 1862: possum
  • February 5, 1862: sketch map of Washington and Georgetown area
  • February 9, 1862: hospital wards
  • December 19, 1862: principal building of the Soldiers' Home in Virginia; chain bridge that slowed their march
  • March 11, 1862: makeshift tent while on march near Fairfax Courthouse
  • March 18, 1862: camp scene with makeshift tent near Alexandria
  • March 29, 1862: agricultural tools used by African Americans; wooden gun with hog's head placed in the muzzle
  • April 3, 1862: sketch map of march route in Virginia
  • April 9, 1862: musical notations and sketch of buildings
  • April 25, 1862: birds-eye-view of three farms and sketch of a farmhouse's steps and door
  • April 25, 1862: sketch of three farms
  • November 18, 1862: pattern for chevrons and illustration of where they will be attached to sleeves
  • November 27, 1862: steaming plum pudding served at Thanksgiving
  • December 25, 1862: camp for the 77th Regiment decorated for Christmas
  • February 24, 1863: snowball fight in camp
  • April 9, 1863: sketch of military insignia on the hat worn by a young girl who accompanied Abraham Lincoln on a review of the army
  • October 17, 1863: sketch map of troop positions
  • September 8, 1864: traced floral patterns

The Bundled Correspondence Sub-Series reflects the original bundling of these sub-sets of letters, with each then arranged chronologically. One bundle consists of nine letters and documents from ca. 1859-1860, as well as undated items, relating to Miss Slater's School for Young Ladies in Lansingburgh, New York. The other bundle includes six letters from 1868 relating to resolving an incident when George T. Stevens received double payment while in the service in 1864.

The Documents Series is divided into four sub-series. The Chronological Documents Sub-Series consists of eleven items ranging in date from 1856 to 1864, including Castleton Medical College admission tickets; a subscription receipt toFlag of Our Union ; a partially printed notebook listing voters in the town of Keene in 1858; a small leather wallet containing notes documenting George and Harriet's travels in 1861, money received, and letters; an 1864 document from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer relieving Stevens of duty; General Orders 222 from 1864; a partial copy of the regiment's participation in military campaigns from May to July 1864; undated GAR Roster; and an undated list of three people, "not paid."

The bundled documents sub-series represent the original bundling of the documents as they arrived at the Clements, but each grouping was then arranged chronologically. The Bundled Military Documents Sub-Series consists of:

  • Five Civil War Passes, 1861-1862
  • Six Reports of Sick and Wounded, compiled by George T. Stevens, December 1861- May 1862
  • Approximately 66 documents relating to "Monthly Reports of Hospital Supplies &c," February 1863- March 1865
  • Seven lists of casualties and enlisted men, primarily for the 77th Regiment, 1864-1865

The Bundled G.A.R. Documents Sub-Series consists of the following bundles:

  • "Papers relating to Soldiers & Sailors Union," with three petitions, 1866-1867, to charter subordinate unions in Eastchester, Utica, and Newburgh, New York, respectively, and one letter stating why the Yonkers Soldiers' and Sailors' Union would not be represented in a convention. A note written by Harriet W. Stevens in 1920 states that the Soldiers' and Sailors' Union merged into the Society of the G.A.R. in George T. Stevens' Albany office in 1867.
  • "Papers relating to the formation of the society of the Grand Army of the Republic of the state of New York," with approximately 23 documents dating between December 1866 and December 1867. These include general orders and circulars from the Headquarters Department of New York as well as undated petitions to apply for a charter for a post of the G.A.R. All of the petitions are blank, except one with a single signature.
  • "Special Orders [GAR], 1867," with 11 documents, written by Frank J. Bramhall or George T. Stevens regarding G.A.R. procedures
  • "1867," with approximately 25 documents dating between September 1866 and November 1867, many relating to G.A.R. charters, membership applications, reports and rosters, and other business.

The Miscellaneous Bundled Documents Sub-Series consists of two rolled bundles:

  • 8 appointments, certificates, and diplomas for George T. Stevens, 1864-1881, including his Army appointments to Assistant Surgeon and Surgeon, Army discharge, diploma from Castleton Medical College, certificate for his honorary degree from Union College, as well as several certificates for medical societies and the military organizations
  • 3 genealogical documents, including a blank genealogical form, "Ancestral Chart, 1879;" a copy of the chart filled out for Charles Wadhams Stevens' ancestry; and a small version of the Charles Wadhams Stevens genealogy.

The Writings Series includes:

  • George T. Stevens manuscript drafts of autobiographical writings. Dated notes range from 1910 to 1914. Sections include: Childhood; The School at Chazy; Elizabethtown; Personal Reminiscences: My First Wage Earning; My First Engagement as Schoolmaster; School at Keeseville; My First Field of Practice; [Leaving Keeseville and Entering the Army]; My Time as a Soldier; Notes of the Life in the Army; Williamsburgh; Albany Beginnings of Botanical Experiences; The Nature Club; [A Trip to Europe].
  • George T. Stevens biography, a brief two-page manuscript outlining his Civil War service and professional and academic achievements, particularly in relation to ophthalmology.
  • George T. Stevens typed reply to a G.A.R. questionnaire with manuscript additions, providing information about his military service and post-war career. Includes additional text, "Beginnings of the Grand Army of the Republic in the State of New York."
  • Harriet W. Stevens, "Some War Time Recollections by the Wife of an Army Surgeon," a 42-page typed draft with manuscript corrections of a paper she read before the National Society of New England Women. Particular attention is paid to the Peninsular Campaign of 1861, her visits with George T. Stevens in camp in 1863, stays in Washington, D.C., and tending to George during his bouts of illness. A shorter, 13-page copy is also present.
  • Frances Davenport Ormsbee, "A War Reminiscence," a 12-page typescript that relates George Davenport's service, her visits with him during the war, his death, and efforts to locate his grave and recover his body. Also includes a photocopy of a transcribed letter from June 10, 1865, from Frances describing the retrieval of George Davenport and Captain Ormsbee's bodies.
  • "Army Papers Written by Members of the Sixth Corps," with three different unattributed and undated items: "June 20th Fight at Mechanicsville," 2 pages, and two partial military recollections, 4 pages and 16 pages respectively.

The Scrapbook Series consists of one volume with material primarily relating to George T. Stevens' post-Civil War life and career tipped or pasted in. Dated items range from 1861 to 1918. Material relates to his work with the Albany Medical College, Nature Club of Albany, the Albany Institute and its Field Meetings, the Grand Army of the Republic, military reunions, the Troy Scientific Association, the Soldiers and Sailors Union, and some references to his publications. Some material relates to his medical career, primarily ephemera from medical associations, lectures, and notices of his awards and achievements. Two Civil War-era items include an 1861 newspaper clipping from Keeseville announcing George T. Stevens' appointment in the Army and an 1861 printed circular calling to organize a Bemis Heights Battalion. Only a handful of items relate to Harriet W. Stevens and their social life. Formats include newspaper clippings, postcards, disbound pages, fliers, programs, advertisements, business or calling cards, and circulars, among others.

The Photographs Series features the following:

  • 10 cartes-de-visite of "Officers of the 77th Regt. NYS Vols." Named individuals include Winsor B. French, Henry J. Adams (of the 118th Infantry), David J. Caw, [Isaac D.] Clapp, Martin Lennon, and "Robert."
  • Approximately 12 photographs of George T. Stevens appear in a variety of formats, including cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, studio portraits, a framed photo, among others. The tintypes, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes are detailed separately below.
  • 10 photographs of Harriet W. Stevens dating from 1861 into her older age.
  • 15 photographs of Frances Virginia Stevens Ladd, ranging from when she was a baby through her older age. Dated items range from 1866 to 1922, and several show her wearing theatrical garb.
  • 5 photographs of Charles Wadhams Stevens, ranging from when he was a baby into his middle age. Dated items range from 1868 to 1880.
  • 2 photographs of Georgina Wadhams Stevens, one a tinted reproduction of a photo on a cabinet card, and another a cyanotype of an interior scene displaying a framed painted portrait of her, likely anteceding her death.
  • 3 photographs of George Trumbull Ladd.

In addition to the above, the Photographs Series also includes two tinted ambrotypes of George T. Stevens; one tinted tintype of George T. and Harriet W. Stevens with George and Frances Davenport; one tinted daguerreotype of Frances and George Davenport; and a ca. 1864 tintype of George T. Stevens in the field in Virginia, wearing his uniform while mounted on a horse, with his groom, Austin, standing with his mule.

The Printed Materials Series primarily consists of pamphlets dating from 1850 to 1915 and includes material relating to the Sons of Temperance, Castleton Medical College, the Independent Order of Good Templars, Masons, and an Ex-Soldiers' Handbook. One pamphlet includes George T. Stevens' address to the Survivors' Association of the 77th Regiment, "The First Fighting Campaign of the Seventy-Seventh N.Y.V." There are also 165 copies of the print, "The Chimneys - April 5, 1862. Drawing by George T. Stevens." Six books are located in the Clements Library's Book Division. Please see the list in the Additional Descriptive Data below for a complete list.

The Realia Series includes the following items:

  • Pair of white leather gloves, with note by Harriet W. Stevens: "These white kid gloves were G. T. Stevens worn when we were married."
  • George T. Stevens Civil War uniform items, including dark green silk surgeon's sash, white cotton gloves, blue shoulder strap, and golden hat ornament.
  • Pair of white cotton gloves, with note by Harriet W. Stevens, "worn by Chas. W. Stevens when he was a drummer boy at Albany Academy."
  • Pair of children's leather gloves and shoes. Note by Harriet W. Stevens suggests they belonged to Frances V. Stevens Ladd.
  • Pair of knitted white and blue socks with ribbon, in envelope labeled "These were Little Georgies socks," likely referring to Georgina Wadhams (1871-1882).
  • 1910 G.A.R. badge.


Hugh and George Roden papers, 1861-1898 (majority within 1861-1864)

68 items

George and Hugh Roden, sons of English immigrants, enlisted in the 2nd and 7th New Jersey Infantry regiments respectively during the Civil War. This collection contains 62 letters from Hugh and five letters from George, which offer an excellent look at the ordinary soldier's view of politics, the army, and its commanders.

The Roden brothers collection represents only a portion of a much larger body of material. There are five letters written by George Roden, Jr., all between June 17th and August 19th, 1861, and one letter written to him by a fellow veteran in 1898. The remainder of the collection consists of letters from Hugh Roden, who was described by the original cataloguer of this collection as "a charmingly precocious drummer boy."

Like those of many of his fellow soldiers, Hugh Roden's letters contain frequent references to food, both that issued by the commissary and that sent from home. His best letters, though, offer an excellent look at the ordinary soldier's view of politics, the army, and its commanders. Probably younger than his 21 year old brother, Hugh's early letters are strongly optimistic and reflect a confidence in his leaders. He is occasionally introspective, giving thought to the toll exacted on its participants and the families of soldiers on both sides, and can muster a little humor at times. A Lincoln supporter, Roden is nevertheless incensed at the Emancipation Proclamation, which he predicts will turn the army against the President, and further predicts that passage of the Proclamation will result in racial equality, in theory and fact.

The best series of letters are Hugh's six letters from the Peninsular Campaign, in which he describes the positions before Yorktown, the battlefield at Fair Oaks, removing bodies from the field after Williamsburg, and the aftermath of the battle of Seven Days' Battles. His diary-like account of Chancellorsville is also worthwhile. Unfortunately lacking from the collection are the brothers' letters from Fredericksburg, Mine Run, and the battles between the Wilderness and Cold Harbor.


John W. Burke memoir, 1861-1862

84 pages

This memoir, tentatively attributed to John W. Burke, documents one man's Civil War service. The writing style vividly conveys the emotions of the battlefield, the sights and smells of death, and the trivia of daily life in camp.

The Civil War memoir/journal attributed to John W. Burke is unsigned and of uncertain provenance. The author provides innumerable clues to his identity: he was from Sag Harbor, had served previously in the 16th and 71st State Militias (the latter in the three months' service), had mustered in on December 19th, when Capt. John Raulston appointed him clerk of Co. H and Col. Rose named him "his private Secratary to take charge of the regimental mail with a promise of promotion to rank of Lieut. at the first vacancy" (p. 6). At one point, the author mentioned as well that he had "sold my surgeon's sash," though he appears to have been neither surgeon nor assistant surgeon to the regiment.

The author is very tentatively identified as John W. Burke, who came with the Sag Harbor contingent and was mustered into Co. H as a private on December 19th, later becoming Sergeant and Lieutenant (shortly after the end of this diary). On balance, internal references in the memoir seem to indicate that the author might have been a sergeant in Co. H, however Burke's presence in the 71st Militia has not been confirmed. It remains a possibility that the author may have been assistant surgeon Carrington MacFarlane (who published an unavailable memoir of his experiences); although the author treated wounded and appears to have been somewhat knowledgeable about doing so, there are no indications that medical care was part of his regular duties. An even less likely possibility for the author's identity is found in an enclosed petition sent to Col. John T. Sprague, requesting that the position vacated by the discharge of Lt. George W. Steadman be filled by Sgt. Drayson Fordred. Fordred also died at Cold Harbor, but served in the 7th Militia (not 71st), while Steadman was a member of Co. I, not H.

Although the problem of identity remains unresolved, the memoir stands as an outstanding document of one man's Civil War service. It was clearly written after the events described, though apparently from notes or a diary made at the time, and if the author were truly Burke, it must have been written prior his death at Cold Harbor in June, 1864. Whoever he was, the author was a proficient writer, able to convey the emotions of the battlefield, the sights and smells of death, and the trivia of daily life in camp with a pleasing vibrancy and intelligence. The author's comments on the Peninsular Campaign, and particularly the period from the Battle of Williamsburg through the end of the Battles of Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, are of particular interest. Although severely ill at Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the author had the unusual liberty to roam around from the front to the rear -- with the front sometimes overtaking him -- seeing the battle develop from several different perspectives. He was pressed into service to treat the wounded, came under intense enfilading fire himself on more than one occasion, and was able calmly, almost dispassionately, to view the artillery batteries attached to the brigade perform their work on Johnston's charging rebels.

The memoir also provides very good accounts of Burke's semi-disoriented perambulations around the Peninsula in the day before the Battle of Williamsburg, the carnage following the battle, and the morale and slowly deflating siege at Yorktown. He provides some wonderful vignettes of miscellaneous facets of a soldier's life, from keeping pets, to visiting friends, interacting with devastated Virginia citizens, to an interesting story of an Irish-American soldier's wife (also Irish) who had followed the regiment.


Levi B. Downs papers, 1861-1888

230 items

The Downs papers include documents relating to Levi Downs' military service with the 107th United States Colored Troops, materials from Downs' work as clerk to the Claims Agent for the Plymouth, N.C branch of the Freedmen's Bureau, and family correspondence from and to Downs.

The Downs papers include three sorts of materials: first, correspondence between Levi Downs and his sisters Louisa, Mary, Nancy, and Ann (Mrs. E.W. Frost); second, materials relating to claims for bounty money and pay in arrears, all handled by Downs as clerk to the Claims Agent for the local branch of the Freedmen's Bureau between December, 1868 and December, 1869; and finally, documents relating to Downs' military service, including commissions and returns. Downs' diary includes only very sporadic entries during 1864, and these very brief. They do include notes on both Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor-Petersburg.

Downs' letters to his sisters provide comparatively little information on the military side of the war, although there are some good letters written while he was serving with the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery describing the siege at Yorktown, and some descriptions of life on the Richmond front when with the 107th U.S.C.T. His post-war letters provide a case study of the attempts of a Union veteran to establish himself in tough economic times by taking advantage of business opportunities in the occupied south. His record, unfortunately, is one of very limited success. An excellent and very long letter from another officer in the 107th U.S.C.T., E.T. Lamberton (1882 August 17-25), suggests that Downs' economic hardships and inability to capitalize on the Reconstruction economy were not unique. Lamberton details his own efforts at making a living and relates news he has heard from of the hard times faced by several other of their fellow officers.

The series of bounty claims and claims for arrears in pay, dated between December, 1868 and December, 1869, includes letters written by and on behalf of veterans of "Colored" regiments, including the 14th Heavy Artillery, the 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th U.S.C.T. (all but the 38th raised in North Carolina), and the 1st and 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry. The majority of these letters are routine inquiries written on behalf of former soldiers by pension agents, friends or surviving relatives, though several letters addressed to Oliver Otis Howard (and forwarded) appear to have been written by the veterans themselves. One letter, from Marcus Hamilton, a Private in Downs' Company during the war, is a request for support in an application for a pension for having been wounded at Fair Oaks in October, 1864. Downs complied.

An unusual assortment of materials is associated with the Downs papers. Included are a pair of Down's spectacles, his sword as an officer of the 107th U.S.C.T., a Civil War-era gutta percha ball, which may have been the core to an early baseball, his military belt buckle, a match case, a $20 Confederate bill and $2 bill from the Citizen's bank of Waterbury, and reunion ribbons for the 14th and 15th annual reunions of Companies I and B of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (1884 and 1885). These have all been transferred to the Graphics Division for storage. There are two photographs of Downs, a small one on a calling card with the notation, 4th Conn. Vols., and an outstanding daguerreotype in an oval thermoplastic cameo case, taken while an officer in the 107th U.S.C.T. These have also been transferred to the Graphics Division.


Lewis J. Martin papers, 1861-1862

52 items

The Martin papers are made up of letters written home by Lewis Martin while serving with the Union Army. The letters express Martin's thoughts on the war as well as his concerns with matters at home, including finances, friends, and controversies over the regiment in local newspapers.

The Martin papers consists of fifty-one letters written by Lewis Martin to his mother, Charlotte Martin, and sisters, Ellen and Sarah, and one written by Martin's commanding officer, Colonel Henry L. Cake, informing the family of Martin's death at Crampton's Gap. Martin's letters are an engaging chronicle of early Union Army activities in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The first eight items in the collection date from Martin's association with the National Light Infantry. The remainder of Martin's letters document the travails of the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry, of which he was major, including their involvement in the Peninsular Campaign (West Point, Gaine's Mill, and Malvern Hill), 2nd Bull Run, and Crampton's Pass.

Martin's high rank and friendship with the staff officers of the regiment are not well represented in his letters home, nor are his letters particularly good resources for military information. Apart from the occasional asides, and some tangential references during the Peninsular Campaign, his letters are almost entirely consumed by problems at home, from finances, to friends, to minor controversies over the regiment as played out in the newspapers. For Martin, seemingly the most exasperating aspects of army life were the uncertainty, the waiting, and the irregularity of mail service.

There is a gap in the correspondence between the mustering out of the 25th regiment and the organization of the 96th, and no indication of his role in recruiting and organizing the 96th. Many of the letters written in the late spring and summer of 1862 concern McClellan's cautious planning and frustrating vigil on the outskirts of Richmond, and Martin believed that a single victory there, perhaps a direct attack on Richmond, would bring the war to a quick end. Though the hoped-for battle never took place, Martin nevertheless expressed total confidence in McClellan as a leader and in the arms of the Union Army.

Among other interesting topics covered in the correspondence are Martin's oft-expressed opinions on the course of the war, the situation of the army, and their health, and anecdotes such as an evening ride in an observation balloon, a great military review in Washington in November, 1861, a visit to fort Monroe, and of course the battles in which he participated.


Richard B. and Agnes Irwin family correspondence, [1796]-1894 (majority within 1861-1863)

76 items

This collection is comprised of 76 letters written and received by members of the Irwin family (direct descendants of Benjamin Franklin). The majority of the collection consists of letters written by educator Agnes Irwin, Richard Biddle Irwin, who served as George McClellan's aide-de-camp, and their mother Sophia Bache Irwin during the first half of the Civil War.

The Richard B. and Agnes Irwin Family Collection is comprised of 76 letters written and received by members of the Irwin family (direct descendants of Benjamin Franklin). The majority of the collection consists of letters written by educator Agnes Irwin; her brother Richard Biddle Irwin, who served as George McClellan's aide-de-camp and as Assistant Adjutant General in the 19th Army Corps; and their mother Sophia Bache Irwin during the first half of the Civil War.

The collection includes the following correspondence:
  • Two letters by Alexander James Dallas to his wife and mother, [May 29, 1796?] and ca. 1801. In the earlier letter, he described the new capital of Washington, D.C., and the city of Georgetown. He also attended a performance of the play Ruse-Contra-Ruse in Baltimore, which featured "French West-Indian" actors including a mixed-race actress in a leading role.
  • One letter from Deborah Bache to Mother discussing social news, ca. 1801.
  • Five letters from A. D. (Alexander Dallas) Bache to Benjamin Silliman, 1833-1863, and an anonymous recipient regarding the Franklin Institute and other scientific matters.
  • 30 letters, 1850-1864 and undated, by Richard Biddle Irwin to his mother, Sophia Irwin, and sister Agnes Irwin. Irwin's letters regard military matters, including camp life while serving under General George McClellan and General Nathaniel Banks. With unusual candor and strong Democratic opinions, he provided detailed insight into Union Army movements, occupied Southern locales, and wartime politics. A later letter refers to a lawsuit against him, pertinent to the Pacific Steamship Mail Company.
  • Nine letters by Sophia Arabella Bache Irwin to her daughter, Agnes Irwin, and cousin Lizzie, May 27-August 8, 1861, and undated; Washington, D.C. Containing discussions of a visit to a military camp, a troop parade, war news (fears and opinions), and the fates of family and friends in military.
  • 27 letters from Agnes Irwin to mother, Sophia Irwin, cousin Lizzie, and sister, Sophy Dallas Irwin, October 7, 1860-July 18, 1877, and undated. Irwin's 1860s letters include descriptions of life in Washington, D.C., with commentary on social events, including Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural ball, political jockeying (especially for governmental employment and appointments), and news of the war (as relayed by her brother, Richard, serving under General McClellan), and news of family and friends. She also described writing letters for wounded soldiers and the anxiety of a life lived so close to the front, including remarks on riots, wartime regulations, and opinions on military matters (such as the prosecution of General Charles Pomeroy Stone [1824-1887]). Her later letters (1877) respect a trip to Europe--a journey she often undertook during summer breaks.
  • One letter from Robert Walker Irwin to mother, Sophia Irwin, September 29, 1894; Tokyo. Description of military actions during the First Sino-Japanese War.