Wednesday, May 22, 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.

1 comment:

  1. Brad, very well done... a good synopsis of Pierce. Thank you for bringing this to light.

    Joseph Maghe