September 1, 2018

Unearthed Accounts

A simple Google search of Nye's name led me to another lead into Albert’s life after the war. His name appears in a Dartmouth Library Bulletin article on David Morrill, 19th century ornamental painter and uncle of Justin Smith Morrill, the famous Vermont Senator who established the Land Grant College system during the war. The article is about two account books of Morrill’s that are in Rauner Library Special Collections, and mentions that Albert Nye is listed in the diary as an apprentice of Morrill.

So I made my way to Rauner library, and they were more than happy to pull out the Morrill account books for me from their Account Book collection. The librarian at Rauner joked, “no one ever asks to see these!”

And so I opened up the account book and looked page by page for Nye’s name. Nye appears to have bought from Morrill painting supplies, and done work for him in the 1860’s and 1870’s, including painting a buggy on Feb 1 1870, for which he was paid $14.00.

Just when I thought I had found everything I could about Nye after the war, I uncovered another treasure trove in the Norwich Historical Society’s collection: Albert’s account book from 1870 to 1871. He records transactions made to Morrill, his brother Samuel (who was also a painter who did some work to Morrill). Particularly interesting are his doodles of lettering and sign decorations.

From a cursory glance, there appears to be only one diary-like entry in the account book. On December 22nd and 23rd, 1871, he recounts going to the Woodstock courthouse to file for bankruptcy.

Sadly, I don’t have the time to do a full analysis of this account book, but it would certainly be an interesting extension of the project!

By 1883, at least, Nye had his own paint shop from at his home on Church Street, as listed in the 1883 -1884 Business Directory of Windsor County.

Nye died at the age of 78 of senile dementia, and is buried with his wife and son at Hillside Cemetery, a few minutes walk from my house.

I took a walk down there to look at his grave, now marked as a Civil War veteran thanks to the Lebanon Historical Society, the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil war in Lebanon, and the “Adopt a Civil War Veteran” project. 

This is where my part of the story ends, but your part is still to come. More to follow on that, next time.

August 26, 2018

Back Home to Norwich

The daily diary entries end on May 27th, 1863, with Nye’s recount of a bloody skirmish with enemy in which two Colonel’s were mortally wounded and, as he writes, “our men were all broken and scattered our loss in Killed and wounded in our brigade was between 3 + 4 hundred”

“we came to the other narow belt of the woods in front and about ½ mile from the Rebell works we had to clime a fence and were marched forward By the wright flank in double quick and in climing the fence our Regts got spread out and confused as the Rebells opened on us with grape + Canester and also volley after volleys of musketry Gen Sherman + Gen Dow were both wounded”

The rest of Nye’s story comes from outside the diary. The 15th New Hampshire Regiment was mustered out on August 13, 1863. In his regiment, 27 men had died in battle and 134 died of disease.

When he came back home to Norwich, he returned to his wife and to the painting business, and had five daughters: Alice Minnie, Anna Bell, Mae Abbie, Nellie Louise, and Grace Florence.

This is what I knew from census and family history resources. But there are more resources are Nye’s life than I ever expected, scattered around the Upper Valley...

August 25, 2018

But, Who Was He?

At the end of the last entry I left off with my astonishment at Nye’s use of a very familiar phrase, “That land from which whose bourne no traveler can return”

As you may know, that’s Hamlet...

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

At first, I was sure that this must have just been a common phrase that Nye used. There was no way that the son of a farmer from New Hampshire would be so familiar with the works of Shakespeare to quote them in his diary, right?

That was, until I found a mention of Nye in the History of the Fifteenth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers by Charles McGregor. He wrote of Nye:

“His constitution was not a robust one; his spirit, however, carried him through the trying ordeal of the siege of Port Hudson without a break. It is well remembered of him now, while lying in the dark wood in the night, and under the enemy’s guns, he could repeat with the skill of an actor, long sections from Shakespeare and other of the dramatic poets.”

That would explain the Hamlet quote.

I realized then, at this moment when I got a tantalizing look at Nye from an outsider perspective, how little I really knew about his personality.

In his diary he recounts the events that happened to him, but he makes no effort to justify himself to the reader.

During his time at the Seige of Port Hudson, he writes about sleeping “Soundly on the ground in the open field with the Blue Sky for our covering” and how the “Rebells Payed us their respects by sending over sevral shell which exploded in front and Some passed over our heads and Exploded Sevral of our Pickets”

Contemporary Newspaper Print of the Seige of Port Hudson

Yet he fails to mention the very thing he was remembered for, and what, now, draws us in to try and fit the pieces of himself he left behind back together…

August 19, 2018

An Explosive Reunion

It is amidst the swirl of excitement and emotion in Louisiana, so close to reuniting with his regiment, that I got my first real peak at Nye’s personality, as well as Nye’s personal account of a real historical altercation.

On March 15th, 1863, Nye was still in Baton Rouge trying to get all of the men who were on the West Point back to their regiments. Early that morning, a little past midnight, Nye wrote that all the troops were called out to hear the firing of shells at Port Hudson. A couple hours after they were sent back inside to go to bed, Nye went down to the river.

He wrote, “Remained there about 15 minutes watching a Bright fire which appeared to bee in the River when it Exploded and was the most magnificent sight I ever witnessed It aluminated the Heavens + Sent up the most splended sheet of fire I came witnessed then in about 30 seconds there came a report that Sounded like heavy Thunder and all was as dark as Night” 

The USS Mississippi in 1863

The bright light turned out the be the explosion of the USS Mississippi, which, while coming down the river by Port Hudson with 5 other boats, grounded and was riddled with Confederate shots. To avoid the boat being captured, in Nye’s words, “when the Captain found he could not get her off he set her on fire + blew her up with all of the wounded on board”

When Nye finally got to his regiment at Camp Parapet, Louisiana, near Port Hudson, he was ecstatic. It isn’t hard to imagine what he was feeling at the time, after four months of separation, four months in which every day was spent trying to get to this very place.

What remains of Camp Parapet today

He writes, “It is a beautifull Morning and I wonce more find myself with my Regt and company + it is one of the happiest moments of my life. I find the most of our men in good health altho the destroying angil has visited them 13 have gone to that land from which whose bourne no traveler can return”

That land from which whose bourne no traveler can return?

How awfully familiar!

More on that in the next installment.

August 18, 2018

The Journey to Louisiana

After being delayed in New York for two months, at the end of January Nye was finally assigned to the transport ship West Point, headed for Louisiana. He was put in charge of a group of 138 men from other regiments who had been treated in city hospitals, as well as a group of prisoners, deserters, and mechanics. Nye wrote, “I have to see to all men on board.”

At the beginning of the journey, when the weather was bad, Nye wrote with compassion about the condition of the men on board. “Sevrel of my men are sick from the affects of this Expense on the vesell and I am almost worn out [working?] to make them comfortable”.

Along the journey to this far, unfamiliar land, Nye wrote about the progress they made each day, the wind and water conditions, and about the health of the men and horses aboard the ship.

The following map links segments of the diary with the location were Nye was when he wrote them. Click on each map pin to learn more.

When Nye finally arrived in Louisiana, he found himself overwhelmed by the growing excitement around the upcoming siege of Port Hudson…

August 12, 2018

The Hospital and the City

Perspective Stereograph of New York City Hospital from the South Side, 1867

New York Hospital’s relationship to the city around it changed throughout its history, and that change is well reflected in Nye’s journeys around the city during his stay there.

When the New York Hospital opened in 1791, it was far outside (to the North) of the city, in the midst of farmland. The street it was on, Broadway, ended at the building, and there was a large stretch of cow pastures that separated the hospital from the rest of the city.

Over the next decades, the city grew northward, eventually enveloping the New York Hospital.

In almost every entry during Albert’s stay at the hospital, he writes about getting a pass and going out into the city, to explore as well as to find a way to get transportation to reunite with his regiment in Louisiana.

“I got a pass out of the Hospital + went to the Post Office and looked about the City a little did not see any thing worthy of note. Reported myself ready to go to my Reg”

The following interactive map gives you an idea of where he went in the city, as well as a little look into some New York City history.

August 11, 2018

From NH to NY City Hospital

After the 15th New Hampshire regiment mustered in at Concord N.H, they traveled by train down to New York City in order to get transportation to Louisiana. An account of the regiment by Charles McGregor captures the bittersweet feeling of this train journey:

“At all stops people thronged the train, and the boys, not to be outdone, cheered and shouted till they waked the echoes along the route. Many rode on the roofs of the cars, and some lost their caps in the breeze. Mothers wrung their hands, and wept at the parting and in the fearful foreboding of the dark future, and here strangers greet us everywhere with moistened eyes for tears were shed in rivers then as well as blood in those heroic days” (McGregor 143)

A similar scene of a goodbye to Civil War soldiers in Manassas, VA

One can easily imagine the mixture of trepidation and excitement Albert Nye might have been feeling at the sight of all this, especially with the knowledge of leaving a young son and wife at home.

In New York City, the regiment prepared to embark on the ship “James S Green”. But before they left, on December 2nd 1862, Albert was brought from the ship to New York Hospital on account of jaundice.

Jaundice literally means, “yellowing”, and appears as a yellowing of the eyes or skin, and can be caused by a number of different factors. In this case, it was likely due to an infection.

The New York Hospital was located outside of what was then the main city, on Broadway between the current Duane and Worth Streets.

The New York Hospital circa 1882, digitized by the New York Public Library

The hospital where we find Nye at the beginning of his diary is, to this day, the longest running institution of its kind. The New York Hospital, now the New York Presbyterian, was chartered in 1777 of King George III, and officially opened to the public in 1791.

This was radical at a time in which healthcare was primarily for the rich, not publically funded by the state, and often affiliated with churches and religious groups. Prior to 1850, it was the only general hospital in the city, the state, and the country.

It is here that we finally catch up with Nye in the diary, stuck in the hospital, an entire continent away from the rest of his regiment, waiting to be released and scouring the city for anyone who can help him get to New Orleans.

- Ella

Unearthed Accounts

A simple Google search of Nye's name led me to another lead into Albert’s life after the war. His name appears in a Dartmouth Library Bu...