Thursday, June 30, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Van Buren Towle (Part 2)

The photo at upper left is of Private Van Buren Towle, probably shortly after he enlisted in the Union army
on July 5, 1861. As the war progressed, Towle aged rapidly. These tintypes are in my collection.

I wrote about the demise of Van Buren Towle of Haverhill, Mass., in an extensive post last month. A private in the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, Towle was captured at Harris Farm, near Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., on May 19, 1864; spent nearly six months in the notorious Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp in southwestern Georgia and died of chronic diarrhea Dec. 8, 1864 aboard the Union transport ship "Northern Light" after being paroled in Charleston, S.C. He was buried at sea.

The photos of Towle above, purchased by yours truly in Gettysburg two years ago, reveal the toll war can take on a human being. Twenty-four years old when he enlisted in the Union army in Boston on July 5, 1861, Towle aged rapidly during his service. The photo at the upper left probably was taken shortly after his enlistment; the others most likely were taken just months or years afterward.

Towle's brother, Carroll, also served in the Union army, in the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. Only 19 when he was a prisoner of war with Van Buren in Andersonville, he survived the war. Van Buren's death undoubtedly was a cruel blow for his wife, Tryphena, as well as his parents and five siblings.

Perhaps William Tecumseh Sherman described the war best.

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will," the Union general wrote in a letter to the Atlanta mayor and councilmen in 1864. "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." (1)

(1) William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman,  D. Appleton and Company, 1904, Pages 124-127.


  1. Anonymous11:25 PM

    John: This is really an excellent post...interesting use of the photos...the first two look the same... the last two??? Hmmmmmm. Enjoy your blog very much.

  2. Anonymous3:58 PM

    really enjoyed this one, JB