Harriet Foote Hawley: Saving Captain Tourtellotte

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.

Sources:

[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.

Rob & Sophie: A Civil War Love Story

Rob & Sophie: A Civil War Love Story

Few, if any of Hartford’s citizens would avoid being touched in some way by the carnage and resulting sorrow of the Civil War. Newspaper articles appeared almost daily describing the brutal battles and listing the wounded, killed and missing from Connecticut regiments. The bitter reality of the War of Rebellion was that the brightest young men lost their lives and young, vibrant women lost their lovers. The bucolic, rural enclave of Nook Farm did not escape that fate.

Robert Gillette, 1864. Courtesy of Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Used with permission.

Robert Gillette, 1864. Courtesy of Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Used with permission.

Although unable to serve in the army due to ill health, Nook Farm resident Robert “Rob” Gillette was able to join the Navy and eventually became an acting paymaster on the U. S. S. Gettysburg. The Gettysburg was a part of Commander David D. Porter’s fleet that, combined with Connecticut’s own Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry army, lay siege on Fort Fisher, North Carolina, “the last gateway between the Confederate States and the outside world.” (1) Starting January 13, 1865, the Union gunships relentlessly fired on the garrison until its commander Colonel William Lamb was forced to surrender on January 15.

The Union victors commenced to celebrate their victory with as much fervor and energy as they had fought for it in an all-night celebration fueled by whiskey pilfered from the Confederates’ medicinal stores. Cheers of victory ashore were answered by the ships at anchor with “rockets, lights of all colors, ringing of bells, steam whistles, and all sorts of unearthly noises.” (2)

Paymaster Gillette received permission to go ashore the next day to experience the excitement for himself. Guards

Fort Fisher explosion. Harpers Weekly.

Fort Fisher explosion. Harpers Weekly.

were posted at the fort’s munitions magazines to prevent looting. Regrettably the largest of these, in which was stored an estimated six to seven tons of powder, went unguarded.  Shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning of January 16, two drunken seamen entered this munitions store with torches blazing. The impact of the resultant explosion dismembered the men on top of and immediately adjacent to the magazine rendering their remains unidentifiable. Robert Gillette and another fellow officer from the Gettysburg were killed instantly by flying timbers that struck them where they stood 150 yards away.

Sophia Stoddard Gillette, 1873. Courtesy of Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Used with permission.

Sophia Stoddard Gillette, 1873. Courtesy of Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Used with permission.

Robert Gillette’s body was returned to Hartford where he was mourned by his family and his beautiful fiancée Sophia Stoddard.  Just before the mourners left his parent’s Forest Street home for his burial in Farmington’s Riverside Cemetery, Sophia was left alone for a long quiet time with her lover- quiet except for her deep sobs. (1)

Oh, but this war comes home to us now! (2)

The following year, Sophie married Robert Gillette’s brother Edward but marriage was not a happy one and the pair were divorced in 1894. Despite this, the remaining Gillette siblings, Elisabeth “Lilly” Gillette Warner and the actor William Gillette, stayed close to Sophie.

Lilly Warner wrote to “dear sister” Sophie in 1899 to tell her of messages received from Robert by a medium employed by her aunt and Nook Farm neighbor Isabella Beecher Hooker. Lilly hoped Sophie would be comforted in knowing that Robert “loved her and her alone.” He despaired of not having married her

but she will be mine – yes, she is mine – and in the spirit world will be my bride . . . and she will be as pure to me as in our first engagement.

The Gillettes honored Sophie’s dying wish that she be interred near her beloved Robert. She was buried with a cherished and treasured memento of her lover – the photograph of her he carried with him throughout the war.

Sources:

(1) Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Red River to Appomattox. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Page 717.

(2) Ibid, page 746.

(3) Hooker, Isabella Beecher. Letter to Alice Hooker Day, January 27, 1865. Isabella Hooker Collection, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.

(4) Warner, Elisabeth Gillette. Letter to Francis and Elisabeth Hooker Gillette, January 20, 1865. Gillette Collection, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.

(5) Warner, Elisabeth Gillette. Letter to Sophia Stoddard Gillette, February 10, 1899. Gillette Collection, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, Connecticut.

It becomes my painful duty to inform you: Capt. Oliver R. Post

It becomes my painful duty to inform you: Capt. Oliver R. Post

Oliver R. Post (photo: Ancestry.com used by permission)

Oliver R. Post (photo: Ancestry.com used by permission)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Joseph R. Hawley, publisher of the Hartford Evening Press and a founding member of Hartford’s Republican Party, organized the first company of citizen soldiers to enlist in Connecticut’s volunteer army. In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln called on the nation for 300,000 more Union soldiers and Hawley’s assistant editor Oliver R. Post answered the call. Post mustered into the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as a lieutenant on September 8, 1862 and was promoted to Company D as a captain the following February.

The men of the 20th Connecticut were seasoned battle veterans by the time they fought in the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 20, 1864, the inaugural engagement of the Siege of Atlanta. Late in the afternoon they were relieved after four hours of grueling, front line combat by the 136th New York. They retreated to a second line after “having fired one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition per man and after the muskets had become so foul from use as to be almost entirely unserviceable.”

While his men were moving to the rear, Capt. Post returned to the front to retrieve some blankets he had left behind and was shot by a musket ball that nearly severed his sword belt. As he was moved to a divisional hospital in the rear, he implored his Lieutenant to “take good care of my boys.” Post died of his wounds the following afternoon.

Capt. Ezra Sprague

Capt. Ezra Sprague

The sorrowful duty of writing to Post’s wife Mary fell to his friend and follow officer, Capt. Ezra Sprague.

Dear Madam:  In compliance with the last request of my deeply regretted friend and comrade, it becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your husband.

Capt. Sprague went on to describe the battle scene and his last moments with her husband.  He continued:

And thus has passed away another noble spirit, to be added to the thousands who have gone before, sacrificed upon the altar of Our Country. If aught can be offered as consolation in this, your hour of deep affliction, perhaps it may be that he died for his country while nobly performing his duty.

On the day of his death, most of the Union and Confederate dead were buried on the field of battle. The 20th Connecticut had Capt. Post’s body embalmed and buried him in the graveyard of St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta. It was the intention of his fellow officers to have his body returned to his family in Connecticut in the fall.  They then marched off to the Siege of Atlanta and were one of the first Union troops to enter the city after its surrender.

Capt.Post's gravesite Marietta National Cemetery (photo: Findagrave.com)

Capt.Post’s gravesite Marietta National Cemetery (photo: Findagrave.com)

At the end of the war, Oliver Post’s body remained in Georgia. In 1866, Henry Cole Greene, a Union loyalist and Marietta businessman, donated the land that is now known as the Marietta National Cemetery. Oliver Post’s remains were re-interred there along with approximately 10,000 other Union soldiers who perished in nearby battles.  

Though his ringing voice is no longer heard among us, and his pleasant smile, ready wit, and quick suggestion, are lost to us forever, yet he will march with us in memory until our bivouac fires of life are extinguished, and we go to meet him on the far-off shore. He died happy, assured that the future shone bright for him.

Read Capt. Sprague’s letter to Mary Post here.

 

Sources:

Official report of Philo B. Buckingham, Lt. Col., 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, to General Horace J. Morse, Adjutant General, State of Connecticut, August 6, 1864. Connecticut State Library RG 13.

Captain Ezra Sprague to Mary Holcomb Sprague, July 22, 1864 as reprinted in the Hartford Evening Press, August 2, 1864.

Record of service of Connecticut men in the army and navy of the United States during the War of the Rebellion. Hartford, Conn.: Press of Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1889.

 

The Thirteenth Amendment

History comes to us through the filter of time. Motivations and issues become digested into simple statements of right and wrong. But we should be wary of distilling pivotal times and events of history into black and white. A perfect example of this caution actually revolves around the Civil War-era issue of black and white – and the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment freeing the slaves.

We have long been taught that the North fought against the South to free the slaves from the onset of the War of the Rebellion. A more accurate viewpoint might be that while slavery was the spark that started the fire, the issue of individual state’s rights versus the preservation of the Union was the fuel. The majority of the population of the white South were not slave owners. And while many in the North decried the institution of slavery, the vast majority decidedly viewed the African American race as their inferiors. Hartford’s own Gideon Welles, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, was vehemently against granting African Americans the right to vote given their lack of education, a convenient view held by many to justify their bigotry. One strong motivation behind the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment might even have been the meting out of punishment to the Southern enemy. [1]

As the Civil War was moving towards its end, President Lincoln felt an urgency to have the 38th Congress ratify the amendment even though the incoming Congress would have a Republican majority. On April 8, 1864, the United States Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 38 for and 6 against but the bill failed when introduced in the House of Representatives the next month. When reintroduced in the House just months before the end of the war, the resolution was approved by a vote of 119 for, 56 against and 8 not voting.

James E. English (Library of Congress)

James E. English (Library of Congress)

All six members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. Hartford’s members – Senator James Dixon and Congressman Henry Champion Dixon (a veteran of the 12th Connecticut Volunteer Regiment)– were staunch Republicans and their votes were assured. But one member from Connecticut, Congressman James Edward English of New Haven, crossed the aisle along with fifteen of his fellow Democrats to vote with their conscience instead of following their party’s line. In discussing this momentous vote with a New Haven friend, Congressman English said

I suppose I am politically ruined but that day was the happiest of my life. [2]

Soldiers returning from the war with their black regiments later in 1865 may have had their constitutional freedom but their military service and valor did not automatically confer the full rights of citizenship – including the right to vote – upon them. (See blog entry Separate Not Equal). Matthew Warshauer, in his recent book Connecticut in the American Civil War, reminds us “that ending slavery did not put to rest the formidable issues attached to race, issues that reverberate to this day.” [3]

To commemorate anniversary of the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment – and to correct the voting record of Connecticut’s delegation as depicted in Stephen Spielberg’s movie Lincoln – Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney has issued Honoring Connecticut’s Role in Abolishing Slavery, 150 Years Later.

[1] Warshauer, Matthew Connecticut in the Civil War (Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 167.
[2] English, Anna Morris In Memoriam, James Edward English (Privately printed, 1891), 23.
[3] Warshauer, 167.

20 April 1864

Andersonville Prison circa 1865 (Library of Congress photograph)

Andersonville Prison circa 1865 (Library of Congress photograph)

On April 20, 1864, what little luck the men of the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had ran out. Captured at Plymouth, NC, the enlisted men were sent to Camp Sumter, better known as the infamous Andersonville Prison.

Just three days prior to their capture Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant’s ordered an end to all prisoner exchanges. This decision was made to put pressure on the strained manpower assets of the Southern forces and also as a response to the Confederate policy that black Union soldiers were to be treated as runaway slaves and not prisoners of war (if they were not shot upon capture). [1]

Private William Smith, Co. F, 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (photo: Connecticut State Library)

Private William Smith, Co. F, 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (photo: Connecticut State Library)

Families left at home were to spend months with no word of the fate of their loved ones. In a 1908 letter to George Q. Whitney, the wife of Private William Smith (Company F) described their plight:

                The days, weeks & months of that spring summer and autumn of 64 can never be forgotten by those that lived in them. Except the reports printed in our papers we had no knowledge of the fate of our loved ones. We heard government was preparing for exchange of prisoners and made ready for their home coming. Waited and waited. [2]

Mrs. Smith read of her husband’s death in the Hartford Courant in December, 1864 – nearly 3 months after he succumbed to scurvy in Florence prison.

Approximately 35% of the Sixteenth’s captured died while imprisoned. [3]

 

 

 

Sources:

[1] Foote, Shelby The Civil War: A Narrative. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Volume III, pg. 131.

[2] Elizabeth Leete Smith to George Q. Whitney, December 28, 1908. Connecticut State Library, George Q. Whitney Civil War Collection.

[3] Record of service of Connecticut men in the army and navy of the United States during the War of the Rebellion. Hartford, Conn.: Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1889