Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Papers of Major Elliot Clark Pierce

The Massachusetts Historical Society has in its collections the personal papers of Major Elliot Clark Pierce of the 13th Mass  The finding aid for the collection (Thayer Family Papers) states the papers include correspondence, commissions, journals and military papers relating to his service in the 13th M.V.M. 1861-1864.  Also, muster rolls, special orders, ordinance and equipment returns, officers' reports, vouchers, passes, discharge papers and post-war correspondence.

      In 2006 I visited the library and transcribed his diary entries for May - July 1864.  In December of last year I received copies of some of his personal war time letters, most of these, from the first year of service.  Pierce was an especial friend of Col. Leonard.  Both Leonard & Pierce were in the express business in Massachusetts.

     As Leonard's friend, it would seem Sergeant-Major Pierce joined the regiment with the promise that he would quickly receive an officer's commission as soon as an opening became available.  Probably all the officers were elected at the time Pierce decided to join the organization. (He states he enlisted July 1st, 1861).

     Favoritism was suspected when Pierce  received his 1st Lieutenant commission in January, 1862.  2nd Lt. Charles B. Fox wrote home to his father in June, 1862 that "two sergeants good men, but no better than others, were jumped over the whole line of 2nd Lieuts.and made 1st Lieutenants."  To his credit, Pierce would prove a brave and capable officer.

    The early letters home to his fiance Mary Ellen Baker, and his sister Fanny, are written in the style of an 'illustrated paper' like Frank Leslie's or Harper's Weekly, popular at that time.   Artist Henry Bacon, (a corporal in Co. D) sketched Pierce a couple of times, and so did Capt. Eben Fiske of Co. G.  Pierce would send the drawings home with a description of the scene.  Pierce has a pleasant writing style. Here is an excerpt from the first letter:

My Dear Patriotic Sister                       

        I am sitting in my own tent, in blue fatigue suit, white shirt, and my hair brushed nicely, whiskers growing and Moustache curling, waiting anxiously the arrival of Genl Geo. B. McClellan who report says visits us to day he is visiting his whole Army they say, and if he finds any such Camp as the 13th I am greatly Mistaken. I wish you could see it. Hamilton + Banks call it a model in point of order and cleanliness. We have been here nearly a fortnight (wonderfull) and really begin to feel at home We are encamped upon a hill From which we have a fine view of the country dotted with white tents for Miles with now and then a brass battery gleaming in the sun “truly guns” ready to be put in position no stove pipes The “boys” have cut down fir trees from the grove just back of us put them in the ground, two in front of each tent, that makes a nice street between each row of tents.

  From what I've deduced from other soldiers' letters, Col. Leonard had an unflappable, good-natured personality. As Leonard's particular friend Pierce's writings give us a glimpse of the Colonel's humor.  Here's another very early letter of Sept. 22, 1861:

       "Thursday morning we were routed out of bed at 2, and ordered to make hot coffee, and  and be in readiness to March in light order.  That is without any baggage but blanket + overcoat, at the earliest moment, in ten min't” hot fires were snapping in ten mins more hot coffee was ready, and we drank and waited  Watching the signals for the one which was to start us.  I gave up and turned in with Arms and boots on, by 3 and slept untill six
I told the Col next morning I wished he would not wake me next time unless he saw the white in the enemys eyes, he smiles and says, we can’t get along without the Sergt-Major."

     I also learned in this early letter that:

Capt Kurtz of Co C. stationed at Frederick is the one that broke up the Maryland Legislature taking 18 prisoners you see the 13th is at work

Here's another account I like from taken from a letter dated March 13, 1862.  It tells of the advance of the army to Winchester, with more personality insights into Col. Leonard and Chaplain Noah Gaylord. (pictured)

      "Our course led us at one time for some distance upon the Ohio + Baltimore  R. R. and we had culverts and cow-catchers any quantity to leap our horses

Being lame – I was not oblidged to do duty with my Co. (H). but rode with the Col. Our Chaplain who makes any amount of fun rode along with us some time – but could not get his horse Billy over the fences and ditches – so had to go round kept us in good spirits – the Col would ride at the worst looking Culvert on purpose to trouble the Chaplin – there there Billy, wont leap that I’m saving him to leap into the enemys ranks. &c. Within two miles of Winchester we found their breast works fortifications & Rifle Pits some of them were left in great hurry. Pick axes shovels and such things were left just as the workers dropped them"

      Unfortunately only a few of these entertaining letters exist in the collection. As the summer campaigns progressed the work got harder.   By July 25, 1862, Pierce was Captain of Co. H.  This was no easy assignment.  Co. H was raised in Natick.  But at Fort Independence, when the regt. was organized, Boston officers were put in command of most all the companies.  There was a good deal of friction between the 'country companies' and the 'Boston' companies at the time.    Pierce experienced this first-hand when he was commissioned 1st Lieutenant and assigned to Company H in January.  Pierce writes his sister, Aug. 3rd, 1862 in another of my favorite letters:

     "You have no idea what a feeling exists in the country companies toward the four City Cos. All the country Cos are jealous, and do not like it if an Officer from the City Company is assigned to their Co. Consequently, Capt Clark had a deal of trouble when he took command of Co H. Supposing me to be a City snob, they were very indignant when I was assigned to the Co. and even wrote to influential friends at home about it. they spoke to Gov. Andrew who wrote to Col Le. Who showed me the letter. This last week Gov. Andrew writes again to Col L. “Can’t you Make some promotions from Co. H ? The people of Natick are clamorous. The Co. want Lt. Pierce now in command for Capt. and a Lt. appointed to the Co. The Col. read this also to me and seemed pleased that the Co. should alter their minds so quick."

  Captain Pierce was wounded "just above the left hip bone", Aug. 30th 1862 at 2nd Bull Run.  The wound was left untreated until the 31st.  Surgeon Clymer of the regiment operated on him.  His friend, William Clark, former Captain of Co. H. (now a civilian), took the train from Boston to Washington, D.C. to check up on Elliot and report to the family.  Clark found Elliot in good spirits, but the end of his note was foreboding.

     "I arrived here this morning (Sept 4)  at 8 o’clock. Eliot is quite comfortable, being without fever since last evening – and having good quarters and attendance. His wound is in an uncomfortable place on the left side where every motion of his body hurts him. ...He is in excellent spirits and I shall use my best efforts to obtain a pass from the Provost Marshall to enable him to get home. I learn with much regret that among the missing is the name of your brother, he is not wounded or killed, as all of both are accounted for. He will probably come in either as a straggler or paroled prisoner"

Clark (pictured) was writing to Mary Ellen Baker, of Weymouth, Elliot's fiancee.  Mary Ellen's brother William Henry Baker, recently turned down acceptance into Harvard University to enroll in the 13th Mass. as a recruit.  He joined Company H, Elliot's company.  Baker arrived with about 90 others August 18, 1862 near Mitchell's Station, Virginia.  He was killed a at Manassas a couple of weeks later.

    Elliot got a furlough from the hospital, (something that was easier for officers to do) returned home to Weymouth, & married Mary Ellen on October 29.

   He was back with the regiment by the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg in December, 1862.  A copy of Col. Leonard's report on the battle was among the papers in the Pierce collection.  Only a few short notes home are among his papers from this time forward.  There is a humorous letter regarding the 'Mud March" in January, 1863, which shows he kept his sense of humor, and a very short note after Gettysburg.  On January 31, 1863, Surgeon John Theodore Heard, (former 13th Mass. Assistant-Surgeon), appointed Pierce Captain with the ambulance corps.  Heard was Medical Director at 1st Corps Head-quarters at this time.  A long note from his friend Clark congratulates him on his good fortune and comments on the military careers of some of the other officers and men in the regiment.

     In  early 1864, his wife, Mary Ellen, visited Elliot at Culpeper,  headquarters of the Ambulance Corps.  She kept a detailed record of her visit in a journal. Pierce noted in his diary,  March 14, she had just left after a visit of 7 weeks.  I have not accessed her journal, but it is supposed to contain descriptions of Army personalities and social events.

     Capt. Pierce was re-called to the regiment, May 1, 1864,  in preparation for Grant's Overland Campaign.  When Major Jacob Parker Gould of the 13th, received his  commission as Colonel of the 59th Mass., Pierce was promoted Major.  His diary of the campaign is all business.  Advancing, fighting, moving, digging, fighting, etc. with out a break until June, when the regiment was before Petersburg. In the interval, Pierce got sick, Col. Leonard got sick, Lt.-Col. Charles Hovey, got sick, each taking turns in command of the regiment. 

     When finally, after 3 years of hard service, it was time for the regiment to go home, its term of enlistment being ended, Pierce was assigned the duty of Division Field Officer in command of the Division Picket line.   He had to stay at the front one day more, making him the last soldier of the 13th Mass. to leave the extreme front lines of the war, (then at Petersburg, Va.).

     Major Pierce took an active part in the 13th Mass veterans post war activities.   He authored two entertaining reminiscences for the 13th Mass. Association Circulars.  One of them, A MIDNIGHT RIDE, can be read at my website.  The other details his time as a Wide Awake in the town of Weymouth, before the start of the war, and his run ins with a boisterous Irishman of a different political persuasion.  When the two accidentally met up during Grant's Va. Campaign, the Irishman, now serving with the 9th Mass.,  quipped,

"Arrah, there, major, I've great rispict for yer and that's the holy trute, for yee's the furst and only damned 'Wide Awake' I've seen since I left Weymouth."

     Although there are few personal letters, there are other valuable snippets of information to be mined from the papers in the collection at the Mass. Historical Society.  These include lists of men detailed for special duty, monthly  lists of officers in command of various companies, obituaries of comrades, and lots of post-war correspondence.  The more knowledgeable you are about the 13th Mass.,  the more useful the papers.

     Pierce died May 21, 1915, and was noted in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars.  His death was keenly felt by his surviving comrades.

       The papers were donated to the Historical Society in 1971.

      They are a valuable resource with interesting bits of colorful and useful insights about the 13th Mass., from one of the organizations leading personalities, a brave, likable and capable leader.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Letters of Albert Liscom - Part 2

I finished transcribing the letters of Albert Liscom, Company C, 13th Mass Vols.  I took digital pictures of the original letters held in the collection of the Carlisle PA Army Archive, when I visited there in July 2012.

I've numbered 73 letters.  (Albert's son claimed there were 91 letters in the collection, so some appear to be missing).  There are about 3 or 4  more letters in the collection that are not written by Albert. Two are written by his Aunt Eliza, one by an Uncle William, one by a soldier named Frank, also in Co. C, (which describes the battle of Bolivar Heights) and an unknown note to 'father' dated 1857, signed Jacob.

One or two of the letters are incomplete, letters and a couple of letter scraps still need to be placed.

I have learned a great deal more about Albert and his family since my previous post about the letters.

His father, Levi was a piano maker who had years of experience making quality instruments with a New Hampshire firm called Dearborn Bros.  Mr Liscom was considering going on his own during the early war period, and Albert occasionally comments on his prospects.  The firm of Dearborn and Liscom was eventually formed.  I found a few items relating to the company along with a picture of one piano bearing the company name.  Albert's father was successful in his business venture and continued making fine pianos for many years.

Surprisingly, the letters with the most important information were the most difficult to transcribe. 

Consider this one.  He wrote over the top of the first page, but once I got to know Albert's hand, and his writing style, I was able to transcribe the faded words underneath, although it took persistence (& photoshop to adjust the contrast).  Of course it turns out to be one of the better letters in the collection.  He is writing from Front Royal about the failed Union  attempt to corner Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862.  Here's what it says underneath the cross writing:

Front Royal
Dear Parents & Sister
          I now take the first opportunity since we left Manassas to write to you for I suppose you are  beginning/starting  to wonder why you did not hear from me.  We left Manassas the next day after I wrote you from there and since that time we have been on the march continually not stopping more than one night [?] in  a place, we have been on[?] some[?] of the roughest  roads I ever saw.  part of the time we marched on the rail road (Saturday) [?] and part of the time on the dirt road and on what
might perhaps be called roads if the bottoms of them in some places had not fallen through.  When we left Manassas, we started on an expedition to try and cut-off Jacksons force and we have been pulled and hauled round among these mountains ever since but as yet our division have not had a chance at him yet...
This letter continues to describe some of the hardships of the campaign and to express contempt for the leadership of General McDowell the division commander.

I have also learned that Albert, had some serious health conditions. I stated in the first post on his letters that he was trying to get an honorable discharge from the service in the fall and winter of 1862, and that he would have done anything short of desert to get it.  I have since discovered a long letter to his father, written from Waterloo, VA, July 19, in which he describes some of his ailments:

" For a long time my teeth have troubled me a great deal.  I find it impossible to live on army rations.  I have to live on such light stuff as I can buy or cobble up myself and it is rather surprising to me how I live on what little I eat, about all we have for rations is hard bread & coffeee for breakfast & supper, for dinner we have salt junk boiled fresh beef or fried beef and once in a great while baked or stewed beans, very often there is no dinner at all, this is the way we live day after day.  I have long ago given up trying to eat salt junk, boiled beef I cannot
eat, and the beef steak I do the best I can with to get the juice and You may ask what I live on, well I hardly know myself.  Corn starch, rice molasses cakes, crackers & cheese, stuff that does not amount to much except to take away the money very fast without warranting good health to follow.  I have got about discouraged trying to live in such a way, my teeth are so far gone that I can hardly bite off a piece of soft bread.  There is not two teeth in my head that I can use, that come square together.  the only tooth that is of any service to me in biting, I expect every day will break off, it is more than half gone now, it is the one next to the eye tooth on the right side.  I cannot chew at all on the left side, my teeth are all broken off even with my
gums from the left side including the eye tooth and following round to the one next the eye tooth - (which has a large cavity in it) on the right side, there is nothing but the hollow stump)  The two teeth running back from the eye tooth on my left side are more than half decayed in fact I have not a whole tooth on my upper jaw.  I have not had any drawn out, all that I have lost - have broken off.  Do you wonder at my feeling hungry?"
In spite of all this, at the time Albert was insisting he wished to do his part honorably in the army.  His big complaint was that his division was kept out of the fighting.

"Last Spring when we crossed the river we expected ...that we were soon to meet the enemy and take our part in the struggle.  But how has it been ?  If that old sesesh Gen Abercrombie had not disobeyed orders, we should have been in that battle at Winchester. And then again if we had been with Gen Banks, where we belong, when he retreated from Winchester, we should have met the enemy there, for Gen Banks said in his speech the other evening that if our brigade had been with him, he would have stood Jackson until reinforcements had arrived.  But for all this we should have met Jackson at Front Royal if McDowell had not avoided it.  And thus it has been, marching from place to place, with nothing but the monotony of camp life."

(The reference to Abercrombie and Banks refer to March, 1862 when several regiments were remomved from Gen. N. P. Banks army, and placed  under command of Gen. John Abercrombie.  Gen. Hartsuff took command of the brigade in May)

These excerpts describe his health condition and discouraged morale. He seems to have had some kind of malnutrition or immune problems.   A few weeks later getting water for the company, he banged a canteen on his knee.  The knee bothered him so much he went lame.  He couldn't keep up during the hard marches of Gen. Pope's retreat..  He eventually fell out of the ranks in mid - August and went to a hospital in Washington.  His teeth continued to deteriorate, and his 'rheumatism' never healed completely.  Knowing he couldn't stand the harsh conditions of a winter campaign or camp he pressed for a discharge.  He eventually got it in mid 1863.

I'll post a bit more on the letters again.