This letter was written by Lt. Edward “Stanley” Abbot (1841-1863), the son of Joseph Hale Abbot (1802-1873) and Fanny Ellingwood (Larcom) Abbot (1807-1883). A biographical sketch for Stanley states that he was fitted for college partly at the Boston Latin School, the private Latin School of E. S. Dixwell, Esq., and Phillips Exeter Academy, and partly by an older brother. He entered Harvard College in July, 1860, after passing an excellent examination. In September, 1861, he was absent from College a short time on account of his health, and soon after his recovery began to devote his whole time to military study, with the design of becoming an officer in the Regular service. He closed his connections with the College in March, 1862, and went to the Military School at Norwich, Vermont, where he stayed about four months. On July 1, 1862, he enlisted at Fort Preble, Portland, in the 17th Infantry, United States Army, having previously declined to accept a commission in the Volunteer service, because he chose to take what he deemed the shortest road to a commission in the Regular service. The absence of his brother, now Brevet Major-General Henry Larcom Abbot, then an engineer officer on General McClellan’s staff in the Peninsula, had occasioned some delay in obtaining the commission he wished for. He therefore took this manly way to earn one for himself, under a promise from Lieutenant-Colonel J. Durrell Greene, of the Seventeenth Infantry, that, if he showed himself fit for a commission, he should be recommended to the War Department to receive one. ” In four months and ten days I was enabled,” he says in a note-book, ” to regain the position of a gentleman, which I had voluntarily resigned; — a few days? an infinity of time!”
He once remarked to a friend, in reference to this period of his life, that he thought nothing but the music of the band and the magnificent ocean view down Portland Harbor had enabled him to endure it. On the 11th of November, 1862, he received the commission of Second Lieutenant, and, at his own request, was at once assigned to duty with a company of the battalion then in the field with the Army of the Potomac. Early in December, 1862, he left his home for the last time, taking on a party of recruits, about fifty in number. Though the only officer with the party, and himself so young, he carried the entire number through Boston, New York, and Washington without the loss of a single man. For this service, an unusual one, he received much commendation at the time from his superiors. He became First Lieutenant on April 27, 1863.
He never came home again; and indeed, during his whole military career, he was absent from duty only three days, which he spent in the defences of Washington on a visit to General Abbot, whom he had not seen for two years. He rejoined his company in the Chancellorsville campaign, having walked twenty miles in one night to overtake them before the battle, in which his regiment took gallant part, and lost one man in every ten.
He shared in the terrible forced marches by which the army reached Gettysburg, — unsurpassed, if they have been equalled, during the whole war. His regiment reached the battleground on Thursday morning at dawn, and was stationed on Little Round Top, near the extreme left of the Union line. The attack of the Rebels began about four in the afternoon. Early in the fight, while leading his men in a charge down a hill across a marsh and wall and up a little slope, Stanley was struck in the right breast by a minie-ball. The shoulder-strap on the light blouse he wore had worked forward, and the ball, just stripping off some of its gold-lace, passed through the right lung and lodged near the spine. He fell senseless to the ground, and for some hours was unconscious. He was at once borne to the rear, though not expected to survive long. He afterwards rallied, however, and lived until about noon of July the 8th, when he died in the field hospital of the Second Division of the Fifth Army Corps. His regiment lost fearfully in this battle — fourteen out of the nineteen officers who were there present being wounded. [see full sketch]
Stanley wrote the letter to his sister, Emily Frances Abbot (1839-1899).
Addressed to Miss Emily F. Abbot, Beverly, Massachusetts
Camp Syke’s Division
near Henry House, Va.
February 15th 1863
I have just been writing to Mother and have got so in the humor of chatting on paper as I would dearly like to, sitting between you & her on one of the multitudinous rickets of home, that I hardly know how to stop. I’ve nothing to say so let’s do away with all idea of elegant letter writing in the outset and see if we can’t make a confab of it.
The first thing that pops into my head “his ha hanzel” so brim full of fun and good nature that she must be better than ordinary people (I think) to wit: Mistress Mattie Steele. She been writing to me recently and perhaps that’s the reason she popped into my head. Why, Em, you can’t imagine how delightful ’tis to get letters from her out here in this desolate bleak wilderness of _____ & _____. Isn’t it queer that both you and I should have seen her only for a week or so and yet both have launched into a friendship with as we both of us to have done? Really there seems something providential to me in this unheard of precipitancy in my case at least, just leaving home as I was. It was all fore-ordained I religiously believe, in order that still another pure voice might come to me. When an inexperienced boy, I came to live among bad men, “Keep thee pure! Keep thee pure! and strangely enough, I, so slow by nature to form friendships, so distrustful & therefore so repellent. I can show the prototype of this instantaneous alliance! During the last week or two of my stay at Norwich [Vermont], I with equal rapidity formed a friendship with a certain Edward Charmer — a young professor there — which will continue, I know, as long as we both live. Is it not strange that I, who heretofore, had never found a single friend in all my life, should now that I was to need them, find them? Why should not me believe in special providences? Why indeed? I can put that idea in words that shall not be obnoxious to the logic of even a pure religionist. Nothing is more feeble than the reasoning your free thinker brings to bear against the doctrine of special providences.
They say it is absurd that the God of the Universe should take interest or should directly influence the fate of individuals. After all, mathematics are good in their way, and mathematics can expect this argument. The greatest conceivable quantity and the smallest conceivable quantity bear the same relation to infinity; mathematically then, God must care as much for the fly as for the Universe, consequently as the interests of each are equally dear to him, it logically follows that the date of each must be alike controlled by him. Nor can they dodge the point by saying that He controls the fate of the fly by established laws, which, beneficent in their several operation, are yet fatal to individuals. They forget that to consider the greatest good of the greatest number is a rule of finite, not of infinite order, which in fact is coming back to the first proportion by which the expression “greatest” becomes absurd. (It is singular but it can with equal ease be improved by the same mathematical case that there can be no Hell; that is, if the damned are supposed to be unhappy.) Either then one must deny the existence of the diety or believe in “special providences.” It is not difficult to choose.
She says that she is going to Barton in three or four weeks. Why don’t you maker her come to Beverly for a few days at least? It is just what you need. Dear me, I know if I were at home, I could cheer you up to that degree you would get well twice as rapidly and Mattie is ever so much more of an invigoration that I am. That’s the sort of medicine you need. Why, Em, imagination not only “rules the world, ” but it can cure. I must do ever so many things, besides, just let some sunbeam caught in human form like Mattie be near you for a few days & sickness & discouragement will be all driven out of you. Make her come. Tell her that as medicinal springs are made to be drunken of, so she was created just for the special purpose of cheering up people.
But I’ve got to the end of my paper and my fever gone out and my fingers are cold & I must go to bed and I don’t feel sleepy and goodbye. Lovingly, — Stanley
My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.