Friday, July 19, 2013

A teenager's death: 8th Connecticut Private Francis Barber

"Through life, you will find many dangers to encounter," Robert Jones wrote in
 1859 in  Francis Barber's autographs album. Jones, from Bethlehem, Pa., was a classmate 
of Barber's  at Fort Edward Collegiate Institute in New York. 
(Litchfield Historical Society)  CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.

The front cover of teenager Francis E. Barber's tattered autographs album is detached at the spine, but the words inside are still discernible more than 154 years after his schoolmates wrote them.

"Keep thy heart with all dilligence [sic], for out of it are the issues of life," wrote W.W. Moffet of Westfield, N.J.

"When in after days these lines you see, don't forget to think of me," noted Harvey A. Baker of Youngstown, N.Y.

Barber's autographs album from Fort Edward 
Collegiate Institute. 
(Litchfield Historical Society)
In words that proved to be eerily prophetic, N. Tucker of Lakeville, N.Y. wrote: "Walk thoughtfully on the silent, solemn shores of that vast ocean on which we will soon sail."

Another of Barber's classmates at Fort Edward Collegiate Institute -- a boarding school on the east bank of the Hudson River, 200 miles north of New York -- may have had a sense of what their country soon would face.

"Through life, you will find many dangers to encounter, many temptations to brave," Robert W. Jones of Bethlehem, Pa., wrote in pen in neat cursive on June 16, 1859, "but by firmness and divine blessing you will be enabled to overcome them all."

A little more than two years after Barber's friends wrote in his album, the young man from Litchfield, Conn.,  enlisted in the Union army as a private, believing it was his duty to help put down the Great Rebellion. Ethan and Frances Barber weren't keen on the eldest of their two sons joining the army, but they left it up to Francis, who prayed over the decision. On Sept. 25, 1861, the teenager was mustered into Company E of the 8th Connecticut in Hartford. Three weeks later, the regiment left the state bound for Annapolis, Md., where it soon was attached to the Third Brigade of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Expeditionary Corps.

When Barber and the 8th Connecticut first arrived in Annapolis in early November, they were billeted on the campus of St. John's College, a preparatory school that supplied men and boys to both Civil War armies.  Barber remained in camp with his company through November and December, but in early January, he was transferred to a hospital ship although he apparently wasn't very sick. Disease was rampant in the ranks of the Union army in Annapolis, where a lack of hygiene was apparent in camps and aboard hospital ships, and some soldiers died. (Delirious and in a "stupid state," 8th Connecticut Pvt. Henry Sexton of Canton died of jaundice aboard a hospital ship in Annapolis Harbor on Jan. 7, 1862.)

Seth Plumb, a sergeant in Company E from Litchfield, was concerned when Barber, called "Frank" by his friends, left camp.

"Don't forget to think of me," classmate Harvey A. Baker wrote in
 Barber's autographs  album on June 9, 1859. (Litchfield Historical Society)
 "I must speak about Frank B. again," Plumb wrote home from Camp Burnside in Annapolis on Jan. 5, 1862. "Last Sunday he had a chance to go with sick aboard the boat or stay with us. He said he guessed they would live better aboard the boat than he could here so he went. We think he was very foolish as he was apparently as well as any of us, and it would cause his people more anxiety by his going there ..." (1)

Barber's obituary is glued to the inside back cover
 of his autographs album. (Litchfield Historical Society)
On Jan. 7, 1862, the 8th Connecticut set sail as part of Burnside's Expedition, which aimed to close the Rebels' blockade-running ports along the North Carolina coast. Nearly every inch of space on ships was used for supplies and soldiers, who were jammed into the fetid hulls. The expedition sailed along the East Coast through a storm -- a "perfect gale," according to Plumb -- and many aboard the bobbing ships suffered from seasickness. Plumb, in fact, was so sick that for three days he "could not stir without vomiting." In a letter home, he complained about the squalid conditions aboard his ship as it was anchored in Hatteras Inlet off the Carolina coast.

"The quarters here are worse than they would be in your hog pen," he wrote to his parents on Jan. 17, 1862. "The hold is dark and the straw that was put in is used up, and here are 400 men who by great exertion can find room to ly [sic] down if they ly on their sides. It is against the rule to ly on the back as it takes up too much room." (2)

Jammed into the rocking ship with hundreds of other soldiers, it's not hard to imagine how men fell ill.  Sometime in late January, Barber suffered from a case of dropsy, or edema -- an excessive swelling of tissues caused by a buildup of  fluids. Probably also battling a fever, he was transferred to the hospital ship Swanee, where he died on Jan. 30, 1862, as he was bound for home.

"His chaplain and fellow-soldiers all unite in saying that he was a good soldier of Christ and to his country to the day of his death," an obituary glued to the back of Barber's autographs album stated. "He leaves to mourn his loss a deeply afflicted father and mother and one brother. May the Great Comforter be very near them. The Church, the Sabbath school and community 'weep also with those who weep.' "

Barber is buried in a family plot in West Cemetery in Litchfield, not far from the grave of Plumb, who was killed at the Battle of Chaffin's Farm on Sept. 29, 1864.  Near the bottom of Barber's grave are these words:

"Death has no terror for me."

(1) Plumb, Sgt. Seth, Letters written home during Civil War, Litchfield Historical Society collection.
(2) Ibid

Francis E. Barber died aboard a hospital ship off the coast of North Carolina 
on Jan. 30, 1862. Barber, 19 when he died, is buried in
 West Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.
Francis Barber's name appears near the top of the Roll of Honor on the 
Civil War memorial  on the town green in Litchfield,Conn. The names of Litchfield
 men who died during the Civil War are inscribed on three sides of the monument.

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