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Benjamin C. Lincoln papers, 1861-1865

437 items (1.25 linear feet)

A fervent patriot and devout Christian, Benjamin Lincoln's strong abolitionist beliefs led him to take a commission with the 2nd U.S. Infantry (Colored). His papers contain 437 letters written by and to him through the course of the Civil War, revealing the effects of war on the relationships of friends, relatives, and lovers.

A fervent patriot and devout Christian, Benjamin C. Lincoln was also a remarkably regular correspondent. The Lincoln papers contain 437 letters written by and to Benjamin Lincoln between 1861 and 1865, including letters to and from his fiancée, later wife, Dora, letters from his brothers, Sam, Alfred, Irving, Ernest and Eugene, and from friends, Fred Gage, H.O. Walker, Charles H. Mann, Sam Hall, Amy Halliday, and Rev. Samuel Winkley, among others. The high literary quality of much of Lincoln's writing is matched by the quality of his friends' writing. Ideologically, temperamentally, and literarily they are a well matched set. There is a gap in letters written by Lincoln between November, 1863 and October, 1864, caused in part by his visits home. This period, however, is represented by letters to Lincoln, through which some of his activities can be reconstructed. The correspondence ends shortly after Ben's death at the Battle of Natural Bridge in March, 1865.

The collection is a valuable resource for examining the effect that the war had in shaping the relationships of friends, relatives and lovers. Throughout the separations imposed by military service, Lincoln remained in close contact with his fellow members of the Pine Street Chapel Association (many of whom served with him in the 39th Massachusetts Infantry), and his relationship with his brothers remained intimate. The early letters between Lincoln and his then-fiancée Dora provide a depiction of the pain of separation and the psychological hardships placed on these devout and devoted people, and the entire correspondence provides a fascinating portrait of the vicissitudes in their relationship up to and following their marriage in November, 1864. Lincoln and Dora discussed their relationship almost obsessively, whether it was going well or poorly, and the frequency of their letters makes for an unusually dense coverage of the course of one war-time love match. Dora's tendency toward depression was a problem throughout their relationship, and culminated in what appears to have been a mental breakdown early in 1865, probably over the stress of renewed separation from her husband. The collection also includes a wrenching letter from Julia M. (1864 November 21), mourning the loss her fiancé, Sam Lincoln, and several letters from Amy E. Halliday (see especially 1864 November 25) coping with the loss of her fiancé, James Schneider, an officer in the 2nd U.S.C.T.

The military content in the Lincoln papers includes far more on camp life than combat, with a few notable exceptions. During Lincoln's time with the 39th Massachusetts, the regiment was stationed in a comparatively calm part of Maryland or in Washington, D.C., and thus lacks first hand descriptions of skirmishes or battles. Lincoln's letters contain speculation on his own religious convictions, as well as on the spiritual and moral condition of his fellow soldiers, and there are comments on the hostile local citizenry, on his duties as a clerk, and occasionally on the war and the military itself. Once Lincoln receives his commission in the 2nd U.S.C.T. in September, 1863, however, the letters contain more of general interest. The collection is a significant resource for studying the attitudes and activities of a white officer in a "colored" regiment, particularly during the six weeks during which the regiment was filling up at Camp Casey, and during the period in which they were stationed at calm Key West. Lincoln was not always immediately forthcoming in his letters with descriptions of his experiences with his African American troops, partly for fear that Dora would think that he was ignoring her if he discussed anything other than their relationship. Lincoln does, however, provide good descriptions of racial tension surrounding the regiment as it was forming, and some spirited accounts of religious attitudes among the troops, along with several good accounts of their Methodist-style worship. In all, Lincoln's correspondence provides an excellent portrait of the motivations of a white soldier for seeking a commission in a colored regiment, his racial attitudes, and his experiences in camp and, to a lesser degree, in the field.

Equally valuable from the military point of view are the numerous letters from friends and relatives in the service, including those from Ben's brother Sam, a private in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry and later as a civilian employee of the Quartermaster's Department in New Bern, N.C., and from a friend, Samuel Hall, of Co. G, 39th Massachusetts. Sam Lincoln's letters are filled with information about his regiment, and about life in the garrisoned town of New Bern. His position as a former soldier become civilian makes for an unusual perspective on Union-occupied North Carolina. Letters from Lincoln's other brothers create an impression, somewhat less fleshed-out, of the stresses endured by the members of the Lincoln family during the war, the losses they incurred, and their attempts to cope. The 15 letters from Charlie Brown, initially also a member of the 39th Massachusetts Infantry, but later an officer in the 7th U.S.C.T, are particularly noteworthy. Brown was one of Ben's closest personal friends, as was his wife Ellen, and his writing ability combined with his candor make his letters a particularly important resource for the study of one of the most active "colored" regiments in the Union army. Brown provides a description of the rout at the Battle of Olustee, of engagements near Jacksonville, Fla., and the Battle of New Market Heights, and comments throughout on life in the 7th U.S.C.T.

The 22 letters from Lincoln's civilian friend and fellow Bostonian, H.O. Walker, are also uniformly lively and interesting. A fiery abolitionist and an early advocate of arming African Americans, Walker was a man with strong opinions on the war who seldom demurred from expressing himself. Included among his best letters are a long discussion of electoral politics, radical Republicans, Frémont, Lincoln, and Johnson (1864 June 24 and September 8) and a detailed description of a public meeting held at Cambridge on the subject of conscription (1864 July 26). "We must have black troops," he wrote, "and a limitless number of them too -- paid and treated like their white brothers" (1863 September 5). The four letters from Rev. Samuel Winkley provide an interesting insight both into the powerful force that religious convictions held for some soldiers, but also the bonds of friendship and mutual assistance that tied Winkley and his former Chapel Associates, even across the separations of war. Winkley's letter of September 5, 1863, includes a fine discussion of the duties of a Christian chaplain, written with regard to the African American soldier.


Charles M. Maxim papers, 1864-1870

19 items

As a soldier in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War, Charles Maxim wrote to his family about his and his fellow soldiers' political beliefs, the morale and motivations of soldiers, and opinions on the performance of African American troops.

The Charles Maxim papers shed light on the attitudes of a Union soldier in the trenches during the last year of the war and the earliest period of Reconstruction in the South. An outstanding reporter of political views -- both his and his fellow soldiers' -- Maxim is at his best in discussing the morale and motivations of soldiers and the formal and informal politics during the election years of 1864 and 1868. Not inclined to extremes in his politics, he plied a middle road between the abolitionists and racial equality persons on one side and the much-despised copperheads on the other, yet never foregoing his strong Unionist principles. Even the postwar letters continue the thread of opposition to Democratic copperheadism.

Few letters in the Maxim papers contain discussions of military activities in the limited sense, though two letters include interesting discussions of the Battle of the Crater and what Maxim perceived as the failure of African-American soldiers under fire. More generally, several other letters, however, include discussions of generalship, morale, and soldiery, and the palpable increase in his resolve as the war winds down in the late spring, 1865, makes an interesting case study.

Finally, two letters from Maxim's friend and fellow veteran, J.C. Bolles, are worth special mention. In the first (July 17, 1869) Bolles describes his new homestead in Ottawa County, Kans., and the absurd fear on the parts of whites of Indian attack. The second letter (1870 June 1) includes an emotional reflection upon their service during the war, sparked by a Memorial Day celebration by members of the Grand Army of Republic.


Charles Otto Henthorn papers, 1862-1864

13 items

Charles Henthorn's papers consist of letters home during his service in the 77th Illinois Infantry, including descriptions of African Americans in the army, towns and plantations in the South, and his thoughts on the war.

The Henthorn papers consist of seven letters written by Henthorn to his father, Nelson, two to his younger brother, George, three to his sister, Sarah, and one letter from Nelson to George Henthorn. Charles Henthorn is an unusually powerful writer and provides thoughtful, evocative descriptions of the events unfolding around him. His observations on the varied roles of African Americans in the army are particularly noteworthy. They are depicted in several ways: as informers on Confederate sympathizers hiding from the Union Army, as victims of racism and southern hatred, and as highly motivated and effective soldiers at the Battle of Milliken's Bend. Henthorn appears to have a much more positive attitude toward blacks than many of his fellow soldiers, and he appears equally to be aware of this fact.

Equally interesting are Henthorn's descriptions of the land itself, including fine descriptions of towns in Indiana and Ohio, and of evacuated plantations in Louisiana. He makes several references to hostile southern attitudes toward the Union troops, and describes an instance of pillaging by members of his regiment. There are two second-hand accounts of battles, the Battles of Richmond and Milliken's Bend, but by and large, there is very little martial content in Henthorn's letters. He is instead at his best in his reflections on the effect of the conflict on the soldiers and civilians. The final two letters in the collection provide (respectively) an insight into the depth of Henthorn's religiously held pro-Union, anti-slavery views, and an account of a copperhead rally in Lacon during the 1864 presidential election which featured a coffin containing a likeness of Lincoln with buzzards flying overhead.


Charlie and John Moore papers, 1839-1864

15 items

Charlie and John Moore, who appear to have been cousins, both received captains' commissions in the 99th U.S. Colored Infantry. Their letters describe training at Camp Lyon in Connecticut, a journey to Ship Island, and stationing in New Orleans.

The John and Charlie Moore papers (15 items) contain the letters of two cousins serving as captains in the 5th Engineers, Corps d'Afrique, writing to John's father in Hartford, Connecticut. The collection falls into two distinct parts, the first of which includes nine letters written by John Moore, covering his training at Camp Lyon in Connecticut, to his transport and arrival at Ship Island. John Moore's letters are generally well-written, suggesting that he was well educated, however his descriptions of Camp Lyon are routine, focusing mainly on food and requests for stockings, books (James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy and The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish), and other daily needs. Two letters stand out: one describing the unpleasant journey to Ship Island aboard the Steamer Fulton (1862 May 3-5), and another desribing the wildlife that he and his fellow soldiers encountered around Ship Island while gathering logs for construction (1862 March 29).

Moore had trepidations about becoming ill in the South, and on June 16, 1862, he wrote that he had become lame and was being considered for a medical discharge. The presence of an additional letter from Moore, dated April 17, 1864, suggests that he did not receive a discharge. By that time, Moore had been commissioned as Captain in the 5th Engineers, Corps d'Afrique (later designated as the 99th U.S.C.T.), and was involved in Banks' Red River Campaign.

Charlie Moore is less articulate than John, and the letters he wrote while an officer in the 99th U.S. Infantry (Colored) were written while stationed in relatively calm New Orleans. Most of Charlie's five letters discuss bad news he received of Banks' campaign, and rumors of good news of Grant's success in the east. Moore's company appears to have spent much its time overseeing "contrabands" who were working plantations.


Clement Abner Boughton papers, 1839-1906 (majority within 1861-1864)

145 items (0.5 linear feet)

The Clement Boughton papers consist of letters written home during Clement's service in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry as part of the occupying forces in Tennessee and Mississippi. The collection also contains other family correspondence and letters regarding Boughton's death.

The Clement Boughton papers include 86 letters from Clement Boughton to his mother, brothers and sister, 85 of which were written during his service in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry. The remaining 59 items in the collection include five documents relating to Boughton's service, four letters from a cousin, Mariette Bent, to Clement while he was in the service, a letter from an officer in the 12th Wisconsin relating news of Clement's death and several letters of bereavement from relatives and acquaintances. The balance of the collection is comprised of letters form other members of the Boughton family, both pre-War and post, most addressed to Clement's mother.

Boughton's Civil War letters form the heart of the collection and provide a complete account of the military service of an upright young farmer. While Boughton considered himself to be religious and while he held high standards of conduct for himself and his comrades, he was not prone to moralizing or quick condemnation. He was instead an avid, well-intentioned soldier doing his duty far from home, who felt pangs of guilt at being away during the harvest, and who continued to provide support, encouragement and advice to his mother, younger brother and sister on running the farm and leading their lives. His letters to his younger siblings Augustus and Anna are very affectionate and indicate how important he must have been in raising the children. His relationship with his twin, Clarence, is more difficult to ascertain. Clarence appears to have been an unusually poor correspondent and while Clement's tone in the one letter that survives between them seems strained, it is not clear whether there was actual tension between the two.

Among the more interesting letters in the Boughton are the series describing their duties in Kansas and Natchez. Devoid of any real action, they nevertheless paint an interesting portrait of military life away from the front, and include some good descriptions of Union-occupied territory. Boughton's letters written during the Vicksburg siege are also excellent, and include an interesting account of McPherson's attempt to tunnel under the Confederate fortifications as well as a fine sense of the tense, but at the same time boring life in the rifle pits awaiting the capitulation. Finally, Boughton's journal-like letter of the failed expedition from Memphis into northern Mississippi in December, 1862, to January, 1863, graphically details the hardships of field service in the deep south, the exhausting marches, mud, cold and hunger the soldiers faced, and the swings in morale that resulted when the objectives could not be attained.

Among the related materials, there is an interesting letter from members of the Baptist congregation at Chester, Conn., to Eliza Boughton, sending a small amount of money to help support her and her children after the death of her husband, Newell. A typescript of most of the Civil War letters was prepared by a descendant and is available upon request.


District of Carrollton (La.) letters, 1864

5 items

This collection contains 5 official copies of letters exchanged by United States Army officers regarding African American regiments in the Carrollton District of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1864. The writers discussed topics including courts martial, troop transfers, commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation, and soldiers' wives and families.

This collection contains 5 official copies of letters exchanged by United States Army officers regarding African American regiments in the Carrollton District of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1864. The writers discussed topics including courts martial, troop transfers, commemorations of the Emancipation Proclamation, and soldiers' wives and families.

The box and folder list for this finding aid includes information about the contents of the letters in the collection.


Edward F. Cahill collection, 1863-1865

8 items

This collection is made up of letters and documents related to Edward F. Cahill's involvement with the 102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment during and immediately after the Civil War. Included are 3 contracts made between freedmen and their former owners near Edisto River and Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1865.

This collection contains 3 letters and 5 documents related to Edward F. Cahill's involvement with the 102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment during and immediately after the Civil War. Included are 3 contracts made between freedmen and their former owners near Edisto River and Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1865.

Two letters and 1 document reflect Cahill's efforts to raise a company for the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry Regiment (later the 102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment) in October 1863. In the letters, Henry Barnes of Detroit, Michigan, responded favorably to Cahill's proposed company and discussed Cahill's role as its commander. The United States War Department sent a document to Cahill authorizing his appearance before an examination board in Cincinnati, Ohio (October 1, 1863). Cahill also wrote a letter and received a receipt about the regiment's clothing (August 22, 1864; February 1865).

The final 3 items are employment contracts between freedmen and their former owners in South Carolina (May-June 1865). Cahill's remarks on the contract dated June 7, 1865, state that the agreement "shall be in full force & effect" despite the freed persons' rejection of its terms.


Ezra Stearns papers, 1861-1870

62 items

The Stearns collection consists of 45 letters written by Ezra Stearns to his sister, Ellen M. Brewer while he served as a private soldier in the 1st Michigan Engineers, plus two letters from his brother, Edwin (a private in the 20th Michigan Infantry), and 10 post-war letters from Stearns' wife, Mary, all written to Ellen. Ezra Stearns' letters document aspects of camp life, particularly his culinary activities as a military cook, including recipes of several dishes.

The Stearns collection consists of 45 letters written by Ezra Stearns to his sister, Ellen M. Brewer while he served as a private soldier in the 1st Michigan Engineers, plus two letters from his brother, Edwin (a private in the 20th Michigan Infantry), and 10 post-war letters from Stearns' wife, Mary, all written to Ellen.

Stearns' letters provide an account of service in an important Engineer regiment in Tennessee. While the letters do not include much insight into the engineering activities of the regiment, they are quite useful at documenting aspects of camp life, particularly the culinary activities and tastes of a talented military cook. Stearns relishes in his descriptions of cooking and he provides recipes for biscuits and pork soup, among other dishes. Other interesting letters include one with a description of a guerrilla attack on a train (1863 October 23), some letters with commentary on the recruiting and service of African-American soldiers, and the series of letters written during the Atlanta Campaign.

Finally, among the post-war correspondence are two excellent letters from Ezra's wife, Mary. The first, written from July 29-August 2, 1868, includes a description of settling into a new life on an isolated farm, becoming a "real Mohawk" in their new life in the woods and battling a fire threatening their new home. The second letter, written on October 11th, 1870, provides an account of the malarial infection afflicting Ezra and their young son, Arthur.


Francis E. Vinaca papers, 1850-1871 (majority within 1861-1865)

66 items

The Vinaca papers consist of Civil War letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents; correspondence from his cousins Henry Chase and James Miner; and from a friend, Martin Dealing. Francis and Martin served in the 186th New York Infantry and Henry in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages.

The Vinaca papers contain 46 letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents during the Civil War; 10 from his cousin, Henry Chase addressed to Francis; two letters from Francis' close friend, Martin Dealing (also of the 186th N.Y. Infantry); and two from a cousin, James Miner of the 35th New York Infantry. Although he is not the most observant writer, Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages. His motives for enlisting appear to have been as much tied as much in profit and personal advancement as they were in patriotism, and the time that he spent in the unglamorous work of building roads or digging for fortifications was typical of the experiences of many soldiers, as were the periods of inactivity. Vinaca's unsuccessful attempts to secure a commission in a "colored" regiment are meagerly documented.

Henry Chase's rough-edged and occasionally offensive letters include some colorful descriptions of the theatre of action near New Bern, N.C., with particularly negative comments reserved for discussions of African Americans and the idea of fighting for the end of slavery.

Vinaca's letters from March and April, 1865, provide an indication of how low Confederate morale had sunk, as measured by the large number of deserters crossing the lines, and the level of desperation they must have felt. The most interesting letters concerning military action are the two in which Francis discusses his bloody experiences in the assault on Fort Mahone and the fall of Petersburg -- the last major engagements of the war in Virginia.


Henry H. Willard papers, 1862-1863

11 items

The letters of Henry H. Willard provide a brief glimpse of his duties and experiences as a private in Company E of the 4th Indiana Cavalry during the Civil War.

The surviving Civil War letters of Henry H. Willard provide a brief glimpse of his duties and experiences in the 4th Indiana Cavalry during the Civil War. All eleven letters are addressed to his mother, and it is possible that Willard may not have been as candid with her as he might have been with another correspondent, for they are generally lacking in the "local color" of many military correspondences.

A highly literate man, Willard's letters are interesting and enjoyable. Occasionally including gossipy comments about affairs at home, they reveal comparatively little about Willard's responsibilities in the military, either as a soldier or as a functionary in the headquarters of the 14th Corps. The letters written from Kentucky during the last two months of 1862 do provide a sense of a Union cavalryman's initiation into war, including foraging for supplies, dealing with civilians, and seeing the south for the first time. A letter written in the aftermath of Stone's River (1863 January 11) includes some powerful description of the devastation of Tennessee and the grisly sights of the battlefield.

The collection includes two particularly fine letters. In the first, Willard argued that while he was prepared to employ African-Americans as laborers on fortifications, he was concerned about fitting them out for combat. The exercise, he argued, was dangerous because the south could arm ten Black men to every one at the north, and Willard was personally repelled by the thought that he might be taken prisoner and guarded by a Black man (1863 March 9). A second interesting letter, includes a good description of the progress of the Tullahoma Campaign (1863 July 6).