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Letters Home: Dover's many Civil War Soldiers kept in touch

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DOVER — The Woodman Institute Museum this year commemorates Dover area citizens who served 150 years ago in what became our nation's bloodiest war.

We often think of the Civil War as being fought a long way from here, forgetting that thousands of young New England men, from small cities like Dover and Rochester, joined local regiments and left home and family behind to fight in places they'd never heard of to preserve the federal union.

A special "Letters Home: Dover Soldiers in the Civil War" exhibit, which opens April 4, in the first floor gallery of the Woodman House will introduce visitors to a few of these men through photographs, letters, and other artifacts. There's a sword that was presented by the citizens of Dover to 2nd Lt. Henry W. Twombly, age 26, with the 11th N.H. Co. K; original photographs of Alvah Kimball, Levi Newall Sawyer and Joseph Fountain, all of whom served from this area, along with actual weapons, canteens and other equipment they took with them, as well as letters they sent home to their wives and sweethearts. Also represented are Nicholas Tolmay, General Guppey, and Dr. John R. Ham.

Letters home offered the reader a sense of the soldier's daily life hundreds of miles from Dover and his family.

They fought in states like Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas; cities like Richmond, Fredericksburg, Atlanta and Petersburg. Men like Henry Twombly, age 26, who joined the 11th N.H. Co. K and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in September 1862; Joseph Fountain, age 44, who joined the 6th N.H., Co. H, in December 1861; Levi Newall Sawyer, age 21, who enlisted in August 1862 in the 11th N.H., Co. K; Alvah Kimball, age 32, from Rochester, 6th N.H., Co. K, enlisted Nov. 15, 1861; James Tolmay, age 21, of the 11th N.H. Co. K enlisting in August 1862.

There also was Nicholas Tolmay, age 19, who joined the 10th N.H., Co. I, in August 1862; Andrew Huckins Young, 34, 1st Lieutenant in Co. S, 7th N.H. Infantry, joining Oct. 22, 1861, and Dr. John Randall Ham, age 21, who passed his board exams on Aug. 15, 1864, and was commissioned by President Lincoln as Assistant Surgeon of the 38th Colored Infantry. He was present during the fall of Richmond and later appointed head surgeon. In 1866, when the regiment was disbanded, Dr. Ham opened a medical office in Dover. These are a few of the hundreds of names that would appear on the rolls of those enlisted from the Dover area.

The soldiers included men like Joshua Guppey, who fought at Vicksburg, was wounded in Louisiana, promoted to general and also commanded a campaign at Mobile, Ala. After the war, he became superintendent of schools in Portage, Wisc. He also served as a county judge. His body was returned to Dover and is buried at Pine Hill Cemetery. There also was Col. Daniel Hall, who held many appointments in Washington, D.C., was commissioned aide-de-camp in 1862 while serving under General Whipple, was involved in the attack on Fredericksburg Dec. 13, 1862, and served under Gen. Oliver Howard at Gettysburg, where he was wounded.

Hall became a prominent attorney in Dover and also a prominent member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Charles W. Sawyer Post No. 17. In 1912, it was Col. Hall who donated to the city of Dover the soldiers and sailors monument standing in front of the public library. And then there were men like Eli Bunce, age 19, who enlisted July 23, 1862, was wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, and died in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 7, 1863. His body was the first to be returned to Dover with military honors.

Andrew Young writes to his wife Susan on May 1, 1863, while serving in the Army of the Potomac and makes reference to Gen. Joseph Hooker and calls him Joseph. "I have great confidence in Joseph ..." He writes that his tent is only 30 rods from the rebel's first line. "Saw quite a fight last night on a hill to the left of us about 2 miles away ¿" He ends the letter with mention of a battle raging on the right with 80,000 troops. That would be the battle at Chancellorsville under General Hooker. Andrew learns of the death of his son Hamilton from a newspaper article and on July 2, 1863, writes to his wife, "The surprise was awful — and when it came on how sad — our beautiful & lovely Hamilton is dead — I wish I could send you some consolation ... He was the center of all my thoughts & all my expectations — now everything looks dark."

In this same letter Andrew writes, "Events of the most momentous magnitude are transpiring all around us — a campaign the likes of which we have not yet had & on which hang the destinies of the country." This was written at Westminster, Md., thirty minutes from Gettysburg.

On Feb. 24, 1862, Joseph Fountain writes to his wife while on board the steamer Northerner at Roanoke, N.C., with General Burnside's 2nd Division, signed "your affectionate husband."

Levi Sawyer writes to his mother from Spotsylvania, Va., on May 19, 1864, and tells of 175 killed or wounded. "Ben Webster is safe and well ... tell his mother," he writes, signing his letter "your affectionate son."

Alvah Kimball sends word from Roanoke Island, N.C., on April 11, 1862, that General McClellan is in full march on Richmond with 150,000 troops. "On to Richmond ... I trust we will be successful." He also makes reference to the cold and rain, and when the sun comes out so do the snakes and lizards.

In addition to the soldier letters and artifacts, the museum will have a special exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; a special "Photography in the Nineteenth Century" display showing cameras and samples of various types of photographs available in the 1860s, such as ambrotypes, tintypes, carte de visite and cabinet card photos (a favorite with soldiers); and photographs showing "Dover in the Nineteenth Century," along with period trade cards and a few artifacts from businesses like Ham the Hatter, who furnished military and fraternal caps, and the Sawyer Woolen Mills furnishing wool blankets to the troops.

This special exhibit is sponsored by Dermatology & Skin Health in Dover, and will be on display throughout the 2012 season. The Woodman Institute Museum is open Wednesday — Sunday from 12:30-4:30. Visitors should allow 1 ½-2 hours for an exciting and educational museum experience touring three historic building displayed with natural science, local history and art exhibits for all ages and areas of interest.

Call 742-1038 to reserve a group tour or visit The Woodman is located at 182 Central Ave.; take exit 8E Spaulding Turnpike.

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