The young widow Mary Shurtliff turned to running a boarding house to earn a living when her husband John died in 1852. To help support his mother, James Shurtliff went to work at James Ranney’s grocery store on American Row in Hartford. All his wages were turned over to his mother.
He was no more than 12 years old.
In the summer of 1862, the 18 year old Shurtliff enlisted at George Gouge’s recruiting office at 311 Main Street and joined the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Despite the horrors of war that beset the 16th, his two years in the army were most likely the most carefree time of life. (He is included in a 1863 photograph in the Connecticut State Library archives having a lark with his comrade soldiers in Suffolk, VA).
Mary Shurtliff’s circumstances became desperate in April of 1864 when James, along with most of the 16th Connecticut, was captured by the Rebel army in Plymouth, NC and sent to Andersonville prison. She would not only be left to worry and wonder about her only son’s survival but would have been in dire financial straits since army policy was to stop the wages of soldiers captured or listed as missing in action. Hartford butcher Richard Seymour, James Shurtliff’s last employer, bluntly described Mary’s situation – She is perfectly poor.
After learning of her son’s death in prison in the late fall of 1864, Mary Shurtliff turned to the federal government for relief, filing an application for a mother’s pension on December 9, 1864. But without an official declaration of her son’s death, her application stalled.
On May 9, 1866 – a year and a half after making her initial application – Mary Shurtliff was awarded an $8 a month pension (back dated to her son’s death of September 21 1864). By this time, she was living at the Widows’ Home on 1846 Main Street (across from Old North Cemetery) where she resided until her death on April 4, 1870.
Mary Shurtliff was buried next to her husband John in Hartford’s Spring Grove Cemetery. James Shurtliff is buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. An effigy stone at his parents’ gravesite commemorates his death and service to his country.