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Hussey-Wadsworth family papers, 1830-1945

255 items (1.25 linear feet)

The Hussey-Wadsworth papers document the involvement of two well-to-do families in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and, less intensively, in the two World Wars.

The Hussey-Wadsworth papers fall into two main categories, documenting the involvement of two well-to-do families in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and, less intensively, in the two World Wars. While military involvement forms the core of the collection, there is also interesting material relating to the social and educational lives of upper class New Yorkers, business affairs, and of particular note, the Reconstruction period in Georgia. The collection centers around three main figures: George Tuttle Hussey, his son, George Alexander Hussey, and Andrew S. Wadsworth.

Highly educated and a gifted writer, George Alexander Hussey's letters are uniformly interesting and enjoyable. One of the most remarkable of his letters is a 61 page description of his tour through Bavaria and Switzerland, written in November, 1860. With room to spare, Hussey lavished attention on the sites in Munich, Zürich, and Dachsen, where he marveled at the waterfalls, and he was captivated by everything from the sublime mountains to a cheese maker's simple house, the Freiburg Bridge, and European power politics. Hussey's appreciation of the landscape, architecture and high culture, however, did not extend to the "ignorant" masses whom he observed groveling in prayer to a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Shortly after returning from Europe, Hussey became a Union soldier and began relating his experiences to his father. A common complaint in his correspondence was his desire for a commission. Believing that influence and money purchased rank, Hussey told his father that both were necessary if he wished to become a first lieutenant and then a captain, and when his father did not respond with the alacrity which Hussey felt due, he scolded him. The delay, he insisted, had cost him one hundred dollars (67). Ambitious, young Hussey did finally achieve the rank of captain. He was discharged in November, 1863, reenlisted the following May, and again, almost immediately began his pursuit of a commission, this time, though, through the help of his friends rather than his father (81).

Tensions between George Alexander Hussey and his father extended deeper than the simple matter of assistance in obtaining a commission. The animosity may have stemmed from the length of time it took the younger Hussey to repay a debt he had incurred during his European tour. In December 1860, George IV borrowed forty dollars from K. Grossgebauer, a resident of Gotha, Germany (47, 53). George III apparently accused his son of lying about the debt, and in response, George IV complained that his father treated him like a child (53). By May, 1864, Private Hussey had paid off the debt, but the ill feelings continued to grow (80). As a result, he began directing his letters to his mother and sister.

George Alexander's letters also reflect some of the problems facing Union officers. In June, 1862, he wrote that ten officers of the 83rd Regiment had resigned in two months and that many more would have done the same had their resignations been accepted. Apparently, the officers did not get along well with the regiment's colonel, who was said to be "a perfect idol of gold and silver" (37). In March, 1863, eight more officers tendered their resignations, followed by seven more in June. This tumult in the officers' ranks was matched by ill discipline, and arrests were not uncommon. In July, 1863, for example, eight officers were under arrest, and in July, 1865, after some "unknown" soldiers "played a Yankee trick" on a general at Morris Island, the entire 165th Regiment was disarmed and sent as prisoners to Fort Sumter. Even the officers were placed under arrest, though according to Hussey, they had done nothing wrong (121).

Although the 165th Regiment was said to have a good reputation, in Hussey's opinion, it was a poor organization. While traveling on the Victor, the soldiers threw food valued at $1,000 overboard, some men were known thieves while in the service, and more than one hundred of the regiment's soldiers served time in correctional institutions, with about the same number listed as deserters (85). While at Hart's Island, two soldiers even tried to escape in a general's boat (80).

In addition to a fine description of the activities of the 165th Regiment, the Hussey-Wadsworth Papers includes a number of references to white opinions of African American civilians and soldiers and the general rise in racial tensions during early Reconstruction. In June, 1865, for example, Hussey reported that Black civilians were in control of the South Carolina rice plantations and he was impressed with their industriousness. Nevertheless, Black and white soldiers were involved in a number of altercations in Charleston, including one particularly violent incident in which African Americans were accused of using brickbats on the whites (121). Some white soldiers who refused to mount guard with Black soldiers were imprisoned at Fort Pulaski (121).

When not fighting or quarreling with each other, the Union soldiers spent some of their time battling Confederates. Hussey's letters include accounts of several skirmishes, most notably of the Siege of Suffolk in May, 1863, which left forty Union privates and four officers wounded, including Hussey (61). Among Hussey's other duties was escorting Confederate prisoners to camps and forts. In September, 1864, he accompanied 150 prisoners to Camp Chase, Ohio. Along the way, Confederate sympathizers tried to give the prisoners money, food, and clothing (92), and given the strength of this sentiment, it is not surprising that a month later, when leading 200 Confederate officers to Fort Delaware, Hussey wrote that they were all "secessionists to the backbone" (93).

During the presidential election in 1864, Hussey appears to have been in the minority of his regiment in supporting Lincoln. Four-fifths of the 165th Regiment, he wrote, favored McClellan (94), though all of the soldiers of the 165th mourned the president's death (112).

Andrew S. Wadsworth's letters also provide valuable documentation of military experience, focused on the period of the American intervention in the Philippines. His letters provide several accounts of skirmishes with Filipino insurgents, including a vivid description of the skirmish in which he was wounded and a quartermaster sergeant was killed. The letters are equally important in documenting an average soldier's attitudes toward the enemy in one of America's first imperial wars. Wadsworth had few kind words for the insurgents, whom he frequently referred to by racial epithets, and commented not only on their primitive weapons -- mostly bows, arrows and shields, but also on their tactics. By Wadsworth's reckoning, the insurgents battled American soldiers two or three times a week, and were known to jump out of trees in ambush (173).

In other letters, Wadsworth turned his eye to the battered Spanish gunboats in Manila Bay (158), the American victory at Manila (160), Filipino civilians (158, 159, 160), and Chinese laborers engaged in the novelty trade (160, 161), and whom the Filipinos hated (161). Referring to Manila, Andrew wrote that it was "behind the times," but that it had the finest electric lighting he had ever seen. He asserted, however, that the Filipinos were not concerned with cleanliness: people suffering from either smallpox or leprosy walked the streets of Cavite openly, and Filipino civilians removed the clothes of dead Spanish soldiers and resold them. Andrew himself bought a pair of pants and a shirt.

The Hussey-Wadsworth Papers also provide a brief but interesting description of trenches and bombing during the First World War (210), and there is brief commentary on censorship, the German retreat, and the determination of American soldiers (208, 210). One letter refers to the bombing of London during Word War II (232) and to war rationing in both the United States and Great Britain (231, 232).

According to Mekeel's Weekly Stamp News, George Tuttle Hussey sold stamps to collectors and issued bronze pennies. Examples of these stamps and coins, dated 1863, are housed in the Postal History Collection.


Wadsworth family papers, 1833-1853

15 items

The letters in this collection are from Alice Colden Wadsworth to her son and his family, who were early settlers to Michigan.

Most of the letters in this collection are from Alice Colden Wadsworth to John and Maria, and although it is far from a complete run of correspondence, these letters give a fair picture of both the anxious mother and the young frontier family. Alice kept hoping her sons would return to the east, fantasizing that once William became an attorney, he would "go into partnership with some friend in the city, and come and live with us." When she heard that John had sold his farm, she "almost wished that you would purchase a situation in Durham, that we might enjoy the happiness of living near each other. . . . Then I could often see my own little Alice Colden and teach her to love me." Years later she admitted that her sons had succeeded better than the young men who stayed in New York, but still lamented, "oh, my dear son, you fixed your habitation too far away!"

Although her son William wrote frequently, and gave Alice news of his brothers' family, months would go by before she would hear from John and Maria directly. The young people were probably too busy establishing themselves in the new settlement to write home very often, and even if they succeeded in scratching out a letter, the mail service was undoubtedly undependable. In addition to farming and raising a family, John and Maria were actively involved in the growing community in Monroe. By 1838, John was holding "many respectable offices" as a Whig, and in 1843, his mother congratulated him for "pleading the cause of Temperance, and forming Societies," and was delighted that in "every work of piety and benevolence, your dear Maria participates and enjoys." In a letter to Maria, John gave a lengthy description of how almost the entire Whig ticket, including himself, lost in the local elections of 1840: "I say never mind, because this child is not yet dead & they cannot kill me yet, I am resolved to be something or nothing -- & next year I will try them again, perhaps as Senator to the State Legislature." Although he was never a Senator, he did get elected Supervisor of Raisinville in 1843. Still an ardent Whig, he wrote despairingly to his father-in-law about the 1844 national election; "Henry Clay defeated by one James K. Polk -- let the nation weep."

The modest financial, political, and social success enjoyed by the Wadsworths was severely overshadowed by the deaths of two of their children. Their second child, Joseph, probably died in 1840. In a letter to Maria, who was back in Durham visiting her family, John lamented their loss, comforting himself and his wife with the words, "Our Joseph is, or may, be seen running about, & pratling the praises of the lamb -- Our dear children are not our own, they are bought with a price, and that price is the blood of the Lamb & the purchaser God, they are committed to us for safe keeping, let us discharge our trust, as becomes those who are to give an account." Two years later their daughter Alice died while Maria was confined after the birth of another child. The New York relatives send a letter full of heartfelt sympathy and assurances. Susan, for instance, wrote, "Grievous as is this trial may it be blessed to each one of us, and our beloved Alice be made the means in God's hands of drawing each one of us nearer to himself." The last letter in the collection is to Maria from her son John, busy studying for college, intimating that at least one child made it through the precarious years to young adulthood.