Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is one of my favorite books. Who hasn't thought about finding treasure ? I found a small personal treasure a few weeks ago, when a collector friend tipped me off that a letter written by my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Forbush, Co. K, 13th Mass., was for sale on ebay. I purchased the letter and posted a transcription of it in the previous blog post.
The only reference to my ancestor's war time letters is in a statement by his widow, in 1882, on a pension form claim, that she possessed a few letters he wrote to his mother during the war. I have no idea what happened to them after that. The seller of this letter did not have any others, or know of any other letters by William, and informed me the collector who had previously owned it, was interested in military chaplains. He passed away a few years ago and the collection was sold off.
The handwriting matches that in the diary of course. William had a habit of crossing t's so that the cross appeared over the next letter, or letters, in the word he was writing. The t's are never crossed properly. He also used capital letters indiscriminately, and there is little punctuation, like several other letters I have seen.
He writes two days after the killing of John L. Spencer, the first man of the regiment killed by enemy fire, and describes the somewhat elaborate funeral service of Spencer.
He wrote Sgt. Kimball came into our "Mess room yesterday..." this corroborates Lauriman Russell's maps and statements by Sgt. Austin Stearns that Company K, was quartered in a building between the canal and the mountains. I think the remains of this structure are still standing.
Sargent Kimball, is William B. Kimball, who was later promoted 2nd Lt. in May, '62, 1st Lt. in Feb. '63, and captain of Co. K, in October of '63.
Fly, is John Fly who he also mentions in his diary of 1863. I think Fly, was his friend. Williams pre-war occupation was 'sleigh-maker." Westboro, Mass. was known for its manufacture of economical sleds. John Fly was a blacksmith, and sleigh-makers worked closely with blacksmiths in the manufacture of sleds. Fly was killed at Gettysburg. Austin Stearns, who was at the First Corps Hospital (Christ Church) in the town of Gettysburg, July 2 & 3rd, 1863, recorded Fly's death in his memoirs:
The man on the right in this photo is credited as being John Fly, of Company K. The photo is close up of an image of the Co. K cookhouse at Williamsport, Md. the winter of '61- '61.
William Henry's letter gives a good account of Captain William P. Blackmer's eulogy of Spencer. Blackmer was the Methodist Minister from the town of Westboro, who helped organize the company, and became its captain. The sermon seems to confirm certain criticisms of Blackmer. Stearns wrote,
Of Captain Blackmer, I have but a word to say. He entered at the big end of the horn, with a loud flurish, declaring he would "wade in blood to his ears," and then in three months came out at the little end, from a hole too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Capt. Blackmer alludes to the accidental wounding of a Co. I man. Spencer sat up with him the night before he was killed. I have a mention of this incident in the Westboro Transcript Newspaper dated Sept. 28th 1861, and my own notes in parentheses suggest it was John Pierce of Co. I, who was discharged in May, 1862:
‘Since the regiment came out here there has been one killed, (SPENCER ) one wounded by the enemy, one by our own men, (EDWIN SMITH) and one by his own carelessness.’(JOHN PIERCE).
The coffin was draped with the American flag, and the body decorated with "green leaves at the head of the coffin and a bunch of snow balls on his breast."
Joseph Fairbanks was forced to muster out in May of '62, along with several other recruits, who it was thought were not up to the rigorous campaigns about to commence. Up until that time, he shared in all the company work. In 13th Regiment Association Circular #28, Sept., 1915 Charles E. Davis, Jr. recalls Joseph Fairbanks:
"We recall distinctly that when we were at Warrenton, Junction, VA., in the spring of 1862, in anticipation of the hardships of the approaching campaign and the deprivations that were to be required, all men of doubtful physical endurance were discharged. Among this number was our Comrade Joseph H. Fairbanks, who was then 56 years of age. Up to that time he had performed all the duties of a soldier and could not see why he should be excluded from continuing in service. He was a patriot of the highest order and felt aggrieved that his age should be considered a bar to his performing the duties required of a soldier, the order was imperative. His advanced years, in the eyes of his superiors, did seem to be against him, but he resented any such conclusion. When he left the regiment he carried with him the respect and admiration of his comrades.
Not bad for one letter.
Again - you can read the letter on the post preceding this one.