Harriet Foote Hawley: Saving Captain Tourtellotte

Jerome Tourtellotte, 1875 (Photo: Connecticut State Library, Picture Group 540)

Jerome Tourtellotte, 1875 (Photo: Connecticut State Library, Picture Group 540)

In the first assault on Fort Wagner on Morris Island, SC, Captain Jerome Tourtellotte (Co. K, 7th Connecticut), was wounded while aiding one of his enlisted men, receiving ”an old-fashioned musket ball and three buckshot” just below the knee. After four days in a Charleston guard house he was sent to a hospital at the South Carolina College where he was able to persuade a surgeon (with a “rankly Southern sympathy”) not to amputate his badly infected leg. After a few weeks there ,with “fair surgical treatment,” he was able to maneuver around on crutches and was sent to the Richland County Jail in Columbia, joining fellow 7th Connecticut officers Captain Val Chamberlain and Lieutenants William E. Phillips and Elmer Jordan. [1] Expecting to be released in a few weeks, Tourtellotte sold his cavalry boots to a guard for $125 to buy fruit for his comrades. His timing could not have been worse.

We ate up the boots in one day and I went barefoot for eighteen months. [1]

In May of 1863, the Confederate Congress passed legislation supporting Jefferson Davis’s earlier proclamation that captured African-American Union soldiers would not be included in prisoner exchanges. In July, President Lincoln issued General Orders 252 which suspended the release of Confederate soldiers until the rebellious states began treating black prisoners the same as white. While most of the enlisted men of the 7th Connecticut captured at Fort Wagner were released within a month, all prisoner exchanges ceased at about the time Tourtellotte would have been paroled.

Harriet Foote Hawley from History 7th CT

Harriet Foote Hawley (Photo: History of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteer Infantry)

While communications out of the prison were sporadic and sparse, the well-being of the imprisoned officers weighed heavy on their fellow comrades and especially on their Colonel’s wife, Harriet Foote Hawley.  In January of 1865 she wrote to one of the imprisoned officers – most likely Captain Chamberlain – that word had reached them about Captain Tourtellotte’s ill health. Hattie Hawley took a very personal interest in all of her husband’s men and concern for these prisoners made her feel “perfectly desperate.” Working at the time as a nurse at Armory Square Hospital in Washington, DC, Mrs. Hawley took it upon herself to personally visit Connecticut Senator Lafayette Foster and the Secretary of the Navy – and Connecticut native – Gideon Welles to ask for any help they could give. They promised to do what they could “’tho ‘official exchanges’ are made with great difficulty.” If need be, she was prepared to go directly to President Lincoln – “I won’t give up ‘till I am successful.” [2]

Though small in stature – at just 5 feet in height – this “little lady” knew how to get things done. On January 11 she received word that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had placed the names of all four of the 7th’s officers on the list for special exchange. On March 1, 1865, Jerome Tourtellotte passed into Union lines a few miles north of Wilmington, NC.

At the war’s end, Jerome Tourtellotte went first to work in Cranston, RI then returned to Putnam in 1874 where he became a successful businessman and banker. He represented his house district in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1875 to 1881. He was the last surviving veteran of the Seventh Connecticut. [3]

Harriet Hawley continued to serve “her boys” after the war by assisting her husband with the numerous pension requests he received while serving as a Connecticut Senator in Washington, DC. We’ll leave how she was honored at her death in 1886 by Connecticut’s veterans for a future blog article.


[1] Tourtellotte, Jerome. A history of company K of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. 1910.
[2] Hawley, Harriet Foote. Letter dated January 9, 1865, Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.
[3] Col. Tourtelotte [sic] Dies at His Home. Hartford Courant, January 4, 1926, pg. 11.